A History

Not all history is written down
in bone white books,
trapped between full stops.
We occidentals have made an art
of pickling our history in jars,
scrutinizing dead parchment
and forcing dusty patients to speak.
Envy the history of the forests though,
of the people we once conquered.
Theirs remains still too immense to write down,
or translate into marrow and paper.
The carriers of that kura wānanga
just inhale and know it happened,
know birth happened,
know war happened,
know oracles happened,
know weeping happened,
know skies happened.
No need to kill it in a book shop,
dissect it from a podium.
It’s there in the brightly folded faces
of the kaumātua,
their rich voices that haul it back
from oceans where it always swam,
it’s there on the love-worn, stained notches,
staff of the long recounted dead,
the living, breathing dead.

The Phoenix Temple

Did the young monk guess
the fate to come
for this beautiful gilded bird,
the hordes who would trudge and sweat
through the stifling Kyoto heat
to stand and gawk and smile,
take their pictures and leave?
Because that’s what you do
in the presence of such awful beauty,
seen now
as a strange and precious animal is seen
behind the tawdry bars
of its menagerie
in an occidental zoo.
Perhaps the young monk knew
and decided to give the gorgeous firebird
one last rebirth in the licking flames.
How beautiful she was that night
as her gold became
heat, sparks, constellations
under the charred sky.
That vision,
the marauding tour guides
and their flocks
will never know.