Ben Kemp
Papua New Guinea

Cover Image - Pauline Wu 2017
Food to Song

1. Rice


White moonlight,

with an undershirt of calcium,

held aloft in two wooden fingertips

the trail of seeds to Jomon.

Old people,

Koshihikari, the taste of the shakuhachi,

a singular stream of air,

with toes in white waterways of phosphorus.

Dusty bones,

draped in a cloth of translucent starch,

a pearl in soma,

swell the iron rich children of grass.

Copper pot,

under the pirouette of watery ghosts,

in a cot over white ash,

the lively chatter of 10,000 seagulls.

A shed husk,

scented of one grain,

this white cloak was a shelter

to one universe that withheld the map to god.

2. Kumara

Sweet Potato,


a voyage to Polynesia east,

an offering of kumara

brings tears to the eyes of Toroa.


behold the eyes of god,

clear and bright this constellation of stars,

a pathway of light to harvest.


the blessings of Rongomatane

rest at the toes of spring,

tapu mounds of soil scatter the hillsides.


a bed of hot river stones,

under the earthen blanket,

steam rises, the buttery smell of pork belly.


creamy fingers to open mouth,

miere, miere, oh miere

upon a honeyed tongue, spirited tipuna sing.

3. Green Tea

Green tea,

A leaf,

susurrates amid the voices of millions,

the soul of Zen priest Eisai

in an ancient garden of luminous green sunlight.

House chashitsu,

under branches, the antiquated maple,

a square box with wooded bones,

shoji eyes and tatami feet.

Jyaku, Wa, Sei, Kei,

tranquility, in green shadows

harmony, quintessence of the tea flower

from Chawan to lip, purity and respect.

Suffuse Manganese,

with supple verve, a warrior

his serene shoulders, shokayku

observes the halcyon view of his inner self.

Emperor Saga,

the path to Bonshaku temple,

with bamboo growing perpendicular to the sky,

a legacy of macha, swaddled in steam.

4. Kukupa

The wood pigeon,

Bush floor,

spindles, green then gold sunlight,

water tinkles over rocks,

in feathered cloak, Rupe descends the underworld.

In treetops,

Taranga’s white apron,

iridescent copper and green wings,

roosting, in the wooded forearms of Tanemahuta.

At sunrise,

Haumia-tiketike’s hands,

with nectar and wild berries,

her bounty, sweetening the flesh of the kukupa.

The hunter,

with snares tied to the Karaka branches,

pours water into a trough,

the flax noose awaits a fattened neck to break.

Umu stone,

hoven in supple mauri arms,

riverbed to under earth, as steam rises,

awaiting the warm oils of flesh to Aunty Heni’s lip.

Ben Kemp spent 10 years living in Japan, absorbing traditional art and culture, and discovering his passion for kabuki theatre and Japanese literature. Ben discovered a special mentor-student relationship with Rowley Habib, one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent Māori writers. Ben is also a recording artist who worked with Japanese musicians and recorded 3 studio albums that were released in Japan, Australia and New Zealand. He toured extensively with his Japanese band. His work has always explored the nexus between Japanese and Māori culture. He currently writes, works and lives in Papua New Guinea.