The Navigators

They followed the summer currents down,
away from the islands of blue heat,
the cliffs burnt with green,
the palms waving farewell.

Out there on the ocean,
tinted by the herds of turtles,
host to the flying fish,
they hauled out their sail,

skimmed the wave’s immense flame.
Taut bodies singed by the shadowless sky,
strained mind and tendon
to hold the prow like a spear
thrust at the southern star.

The awful night slid down,
crowded in by the sighs of the whales
which carried their distant homeland
deeper into a myth.
The men chose their constellations carefully,
marked the white shadows
of the migrating birds.

The sea grew tighter around them,
the sun withdrew its heat.
As if they had crossed through
a membrane in their sleep,
through the womb of the ocean mother,
they were no one’s now,
no hapu, no iwi,

children of the current
that flung them onto
the cold tongue of the south,
that coiled back into the throat
of a darker sky.

And then the signs they knew,
the birds, one, or two, or flocks,
lightning streaks of phosphor
beneath the frayed hull,
the high clouds that
rose like mothers to greet them,
the green that was just a slither
and rose like foam,

and the red flowers on the tide
that came out to lead their
exhausted hope to shore.

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014

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