Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Waitangi Day 2019

 You walked out to the car 
as soon as you heard me pull in the driveway. 

Do you talk to your landlord often? 

I was up for hours last night with a teething toddler
and left for the Auckland airport at 6am with a grieving husband
so he could fly home to bury his grandmother. 

I was exhausted, even with two coffees on board,
and was aware that buckled-in baby had just woken again. 


Your landlord…

Then something about the way our tree should be trimmed 
where it hangs over your driveway.

I couldn’t agree more;
we recently noticed how much it has grown since we moved in,
and we had planned to do it this weekend
if things hadn’t unfolded they way they did in Suva. 

We own this house. 

And that’s the bit you couldn’t comprehend:
that we weren’t tenants. 

But the Fijian guy, isn’t he your partner? 

As if melanin was magic enough to cancel out mortgage documents,
builder’s reports, land deeds, council permissions, rates,
and all that insurance.  

As if girls like me who have babies with guys like him,
and families like ours whose Māori and Fijian words float over your fence,
are disqualified from something you think is only for people like you. 

No, he’s my husband. And we own this house. 

I wanted to pick up baby, and I wanted to pick a fight: 
the eternal Waitangi Day dilemma. 

But more than either of those, I didn’t want to be the one
who was left to feel uncomfortable.
As if I was the one who should be embarrassed about a tree, 
or home ownership, 
or being Māori,
or marrying someone from Fiji.

So after clarifying the legal situation (a spouse, a house),
I asked you why you had thought we were tenants. 

The slow motion genocide of life under siege in a settler colony 
Is undertaken by quiet conversations,
small unbreakable silences, 
comments left to fester,
an unspoken expectation of neighbourliness
that means it’s not rude for you to assume we couldn’t own a house
but it would be rude for me to draw attention to your assumption. 

179 years sat there between us, 
looking from one side of the fence to the other,
wondering who would make the next move. 
(We all know that no move is your move, or at least it scores a point for you.)

Why did you think we were tenants?

You tried to say something illogical about what the agent said
which couldn’t possibly make sense,
but it didn’t matter:
we both knew what had gone on here.

In my head, while you mumbled, I smiled to myself. 
Because I had decided to write a Waitangi poem today.

I’d been thinking about metaphors
while I steered, sped and braked through acres of literal violence: 
through so many Waikato killing fields, 
alongside farms on stolen land drenched with Banaban bones, 
and past the faded sign for a café called Cook’s landing.  

And then the poem walked out to the car 
as soon as it heard me pull in the driveway.