Selina Tusitala Marsh’s Fast Talking PI

 
 
 
Selina Tusitala Marsh is of Samoan, Tuvalu, English and French descent. She was the first Pacific Islander to graduate with a PhD in English from the University of Auckland and is now a lecturer in the English Department, specialising in Pacific literature. Marsh is the co-ordinator of Pasifika Poetry, a sister site of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre. She was involved in, and wrote the Afterword for, Niu Voices: Contemporary Pacific Fiction 1 (2006) and is currently working on a critical anthology of first-wave Pacific women poets writing in English. Her academic and creative writing deals with issues that affect Pasifika communities in Aotearoa New Zealand and indigenous peoples elsewhere. She lives on Waiheke Island with her family. Fast Talking PI is published by Arc Publications.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Fast Talking PI (pronounced pee-eye) reflects the poet’s focus on issues affecting Pacific communities in New Zealand, and indigenous peoples around the world including the challenges and triumphs of being afakasi (mixed race). The book is structured in three sections, ‘Tusitala’ (personal), ‘Talkback’ (political and historical) and ‘Fast Talking PIs’ (dialogue). She writes as a calabash breaker, smashing stereotypes and challenging historic injustices; also exploring the idea of the calabash as the honoured vessel for identity and story. Her aesthetics and indigenous politics meld marvellously together.”
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Afakasi
 
 
Half moons ago
people were hollowed-out tablets of stone
spaces were given them
according to spaces they left

some of these spaces were filled with pages
ink leaching out great deeds done
marginalia filled with greater ones

other spaces were filled with fe’e
sliding on story after story
older ones wrapped in thundering fagogo
younger ones rapping ill semantics

other spaces were filled with carved blocks of wood
cocooned in tissue-thin mulberry
these long hollow spaces echoed the beat
of years heavy with folded legs
and the thump thump of old women beating

some spaces were filled with darkness
no light would shine there

other spaces weren’t spaces at all
but blistering mirages
no wind would blow there

other spaces were filled with va
these were warmed with the breath of others
the thrum of matua tausi
even if she was just another mirage

other spaces were hard
suffocating stone eyes
calcifying

in other spaces hovered pouliuli
te kore, a nothingness, a yawning galaxy
into these spaces the young would dip their forefingers
rubbing the blackness on their lips
a moko mapping where they had been
and where they were to go

some spaces have pink retro bean-bags in the corner
cups of gumboot tea on the floor
upturned books in punched-out hollows

some spaces are filled
with the music of hands
fa’ataupati, not theatre applause
eyes open, mouths clapped shut
but open-mouthed choo-choo! malie!

some spaces are filled with no dancing
no flying fingers soaring wind
no shuffling of hips
no siva
no tau’olunga
no light in the body

some spaces are tied with rubber bands
trying to render control over
black unruly spaces
a parting and a plaiting of space
a twisting of space into a bun

some spaces are filled with sunlight soap
from the kagamea
laughing over rocks into the ocean
where a dead Alsatian floats under a net of flies
caught underneath the makeke pier

some spaces are brown
some are blue
o lo’u igoa Tusitala
je m’appelle Marchant

flow in and out
turning space sinopia
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Calabash Breakers
 
 
we all know
the calabash breakers
the hinemoas
the mauis
the risk takers
the younger brother
the only sister
the orphan
the bastard child
with rebellious blood

we all know
the hierarchies
the tapu
the boundaries
always crossed
by someone
petulant

we all know
the unsettled
the trouble makers
the calabash breakers
they sail the notes of our songs
stroke the lines of our stories
and reign in the dark hour

we should know them
we now need them
to catch bigger suns
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Things on Thursdays
 
 
If Updike could do it
why couldn’t she?

Surely the forest of books
the cropped rows of frames
lining his house
shouldn’t make that much difference?

Surely if he can rent a one bedroomer in Paris
clear his schedule
six mornings a week
and write
publish a novel
five days after each child’s birth
be inspired by his wife’s art
and write
travel to Rio de Janeiro one week
Geneva the next
and write
pick up a baby
smell her neck
and write
feed the rabbit
watch it jump and run
and write
teach and read
prop up solid oak lecterns
argue with publishers
move house four times
and write
be acclaimed
and famed
and write
wipe the literary slate clean
and write
drop off famous writers
pick up famous painters
add an extension to the house
to write
and write
do parent-father things on Thursdays
and write
speak for money
write for money at The New Yorker
and write
enthuse over critical reviews
and Burt Britton’s drawings
and write
why couldn’t she?

She just needed to
clear the sink
wipe the bench
and write
be inspired by encrusted cups
and write
travel with the vacuum down the hall
into four bedrooms
and write
pick up the kids from school
and write
publish school walking bus committee notices
and write
be inspired by an overgrown lawn
and write
teach and read
to the kids
pick up a baby
smell her neck
and write
change the baby
feed the baby
watch him jump and run
and write
prop up the finances
argue with the parking warden
move house four times
and write
exclaim and rage
and write
wipe the baby tip to toe
and write
drop off the DVDs
drop off the school-age kids
pick up groceries
add a second washing line
and write
be parent-helper on Thursdays
and write
work for money twice a week
6 am to 9 pm
and write
enthuse over her son’s stories
the other son’s drawings
and write
wash bath and feed
and write
clean out the fridge
in the closet
behind the couch
and write
disinfect the toilet
find the missing rolls
get the rego and WoF
and write
read for work
and write
write for work
and write
work to write

yeah right
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Guys like Gauguin
 
 
     I
 
 
thanks Bougainville
for desiring ’em young
so guys like Gauguin could dream
and dream
then take his syphilitic body
downstream to the tropics
to test his artistic hypothesis
about how the uncivilised
ripen like pawpaw
are best slightly raw
delectably firm
dangling like golden prepubescent buds
seeding nymphomania
for guys like Gauguin
 
 
 
     II
 
 
thanks Balboa
for crossing the Isthmus
of Panama
in 1513
and pronouncing our ocean
the South Seas
hey thanks, Vasco
for making us
your underbelly
the occidental opposite of all
your nightmares
your waking dreams
inversion of all your laws
your darkest fantasies

thanks for seeing the earth as a body
the North, its head
full of rationality
reasoned seasons
of meaning
cultivated gardens
of consciousness
sown in masculine
orderly fashion
a high evolution
toward the light

thanks for making the South
an erogenous zone
corporeal and sexual
emotive and natural
waiting in the shadows
of dark feminine instinct
populated by the Africas
the Orient, the Americas
and now us
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Two Nudes on a Tahitian Beach, 1894
 
 
Gauguin,
you piss me
off.

You strip me bare
assed, turn me on my side
shove a fan in my hand
smearing fingers on thigh
pout my lips below an
almond eye and silhouette me
in smouldering ochre.

I move
just a little
in this putrid breeze
hair heavy to
fuscous knees, still
I’m the pulse
on the arm of this wall
and I’ve drawn her to me again.

Here she comes.

Not liking that she likes me
not liking you, but knowing that she
likes me, not liking you
liking me, but she
likes me and sees me,
but not you,
because you
Gauguin,
piss us
off.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Hawai’i: Prelude to a Journey
 
     for Haunani-Kay
 
 
you go then
poppin’ in bubble-gum jeans
you, wrapped bubble-gum teen
knowin’ nothin’
’bout no Hawaiians
not living
in Waikiki
no more

you go then
floating on two-buck sunshine
courtesy of Longs
one of a dozen stores stacked
against a postcard beach
within reach of King Kamehameha’s
you surface from under the slick of tourist

you go then
buy five key rings for ten
two hibiscus singlets for one
free Hershey bars softening in the sun of
Aloha Stadium fermenting
red-tipped toes in jandals
pale chests in floral shirts
necks noosed in fluorescent lei
wrists handcuffed in gold, etched with black enamel
detained by Reebok and Nike

you go then
to finish in Hale Manoa
where student voices
rise above smoking black bean stir-fry
fa’alifu fa’i, tofu and udon noodles
breezing open pavilions
you go then
to class to find friends
kama’aina who surf and protest
he is writing on Hawaiian land rights and kalo
sings at the Royal Hawaiian
for his fees
she is writing on post-’80s sovereignty
like waves lapping a broken shore
we are one we
are more she writes
he is writing on wipe-outs of Kamehameha Schools
surfs Sunset
always goes for the barrel
no matter how he gets worked

you go then
and meet
Pele’s pen
her black ink lava
ever pricking the night

you go then
to hula halau to
the picket sign to the
angry line outside parliament to
Greevy’s photo exhibition to the
kalo plantation to
the valley of stolen waters to the
valley of ground bones and mortar to
the majesty of Kilauea
you go then
smell embered Lincolns
wrapped in kalo leaves
wedged in creases
of Pele-‘ai-honua
eater of the land
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Outcast
 
     for Alice
 
 
I’m a darling in the margins
but you said

be nobody’s darling / be an outcast
take the contradictions of your life
and wrap around / you like a shawl
to parry the stones / to keep you warm

I keep what you said
pinned by brass tacks
against every wall ‘cos

I’m a darling by nature

traitor to the rebel
show me a mould
I’ll fill it, an unmade bed
I’ve already made it

draw me a paper road I’ll sign it
over to whoever says
they need it diverted for a better cause
but you said

be nobody’s darling

and that which casts me out
is cast about me
that which warms my flesh
guards my bones

and when I found
it to be true

the part about freedom
your shawl

became a fall of Huka curls
plunging black through suburban streets

a grey beach cottage firing
paua spirals under its eaves

his hand pressing want under
the wake table

a cocooning quilt pulled back under
the slim promise of sun

a brown woman walking
genealogy swimming her calves

a green dress worn on a blue blue day
because she can

it’s become a map
to get us beyond the line
the justified edge
that breaking page

it’s become a map in my arms
to get us beyond the reef
 
 
 
 
from Fast Talking PI (Arc Publications, 2012).
 
Order Fast Talking PI.

Visit Pasifika Poetry.
 
 
 
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