The Invasion of the Sea

At first it was just a trickle.
Like unusual shells,
the strangers,
salted by their long journeys,
washed up with the tides.

The chiefs were keen to barter
what they had,
flax, food, women,
for the trinkets, the nails, the cloth,
above all, the muskets.

And every man who counted
soon had “his” Pakeha,
an invisible fish-line
to that cold world of iron.

The chiefs, one by one,
fell to its power,
grew bold and puffed up
in the eyes of their rivals.
With their guns they had
old scores to settle,

and soon the land
was caked in the black powder
and the Maori had undergone
the first tragedy
of their long, agonizing century.

And all the while
the strangers trickled in,
with books, bread, bronchitis,
but they waded into a Maori lake,
made islands, made terms.

Then, on the shores of Te Aro,
Te Wharepouri saw with astonishment
one thousand of these strangers
step off their ships,

and called it an invasion of the sea,
the salt water people,
who would rush into
the eddies of the Maori stream,
sicken the waters
of the green stone children.

But Te Wharepouri made the most of it,
did a brisk business with the new comers,
while they eagerly took,
and stayed like a congealed tide.

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014

Kapene Kuki

From the shore that was still theirs
they saw it one morning,
called it a floating island,
a colossal bird.

The men took their oars
and sped out in their waka
right up under its massive wings
that stroked the sun.

And when one man dropped cold at the prow
they knew it was an Atua,
one of the gods that rove
like the whales, the white sea birds.

And the men ventured to challenge it,
got up close under its yawning, fiery mouths
that screamed over their heads,
as it exhaled, grew larger

as if to feast, devoured the waves,
churned up whirlpools,
while its spine thrust above
their dizzying sight.

But the men where satisfied,
they’d shown how
they were a match for the deity.

News spread as Atua slid up the coast.
And when it came to rest in a bay,
just like an island,
others were waiting along the beach.

Something approached
from the wounded side of the god,
ferried like a message
across centuries and the winds of Hawaiiki.

And there before them on the shore,
the radiant, benevolent messenger,
from the throat of that dark bird, advanced,
while the people, hushed, spoke rapidly,

and the emissary’s guards
chanted rabid, whistled songs,
clutching at their sides,
the warriors couldn’t fail to notice,
blunt taiaha.

But the quiet one moved among the onlookers,
touched them, smiled,
took their offerings,
patted the children’s fine, dark hair
with one soft palm,

handed them hard iron nails
with the other,
all the while smiling, glowing, blinding,
for he was not yet human.

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014