blackmail press 35
Karlo Mila
New Zealand

Taipari O Maraea - Penny Howard
Karlo Mila is a poet. Her first collection won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry at the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. Her work has been published in several anthologies, including Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English. She has had poems selected for Best New Zealand Poems in 2003, 2005 and 2006. Mila collaborated with German-born artist Delicia Sampero in 2008 to produce A Well Written Body, a combination of text and image.


After Reading Ancestry

for Albert Wendt

Page by page,
I wandered the streets of Ponsonby
found my dreaming, padding feet
in the lush green grass of Manoa, Hawaii,
the sand under surveillance at Long Bay
at the table of Palangi breakfasts in Samoa
circling the unfamiliar umu pit,
finding foreign words, coaxing them
into familiar, into family.
But all roads lead to Ponsonby
where restored villas ascend,
skylighted, into lagituaiva,
and the leaves still speak
the gentle green tongued talk
of tended gardens,
and you, Albert,
character among your characters
appear, a dreaming woman
at your side, both of you, flourishing,
the soil of stories in your hands
here, where we are all permanent guests
of the landscapes you have created.
Here, where all the nuances of red
bloom, where even the caramel generation grow,
practiced schizophrenics, surviving
the small humiliations of raw peripheries
that you traversed before us,
charting that territory with black star
after black star, so that we could find
another way of mapping
the despair of the light, the search
for the green dawn.
Once you’ve imagined it possible
to gafa back to Atua,
the story can never be the same again.
And you kneel together
in that fertile soil
where the lifeblood of stories begins,
planting the strangers of our sleeping lives
where past and present collide in one single kernel
and living things unfold beyond the boundaries
of dream, taking their own shape,
orbiting out into the world,
a garden of people, pukeko, aloe vera, eels,
light, lettuce, mokopuna, named fine mats,
feijoas, family gods, fungus and freedom trees.
Death comes
and still your garden grows,
owls circling softly overhead.
Your green fingered pen
still bringing life, to life.

For Jim Vivieaere


We shared a beer once
a quiet conversation
that quickly moved
to what lurks beneath
you showed me your work
dark purples, subterranean colours
images, like bite marks into
the deep flesh of memory
bat winged boy remembering
(such gentle eyes)
the way
might bottle
a moving ocean
what is seen
behind the glass


and yes,
that exhibition
made it all the way to my hometown
Palmerston North
right on time
flooding the old, tired
savage story of us
blotting and plotting
such lucid watermarks
washing up another vision entirely
- you were always at the forefront
of the wave
your movements
shaping our landscape
leaving it altered
and now for the final time
your tide returns
we honour
all that you have left us with
the lovely
beautiful and broken
plastic and pearl
ancient and fresh
real and surreal
loss and light
gift and grief
finely shaped
carefully thought
gently wrought
e hoa, as your tide returns
we honour
the boundless beach
you’ve left behind
relentlessly wide
and open enough
to find room for us all

Finding Our Way

Make sure
you navigate today,
with a vision
that connects you
to what really matters.

Tei a koe rai te rapa I to oe
you have the blade of your paddle
I have the blade of mine.

New dawn, breaks after new dawn,
we are still blessed to have our eyes
on this ever-changing horizon,
where satellites speak with mysterious tongues
locating us with precision.

But we have always known,
that knowing exactly where you are,
all of the time, isn’t what it is really worth knowing.

It is about the ability to find the way,
our way, your way, our way.

For we know in this new land,
the Government is never our family.

Not like home,
where we are connected,
by blood, by neighbours,
by village, by church, by schools,
by slim dusty streets.

Back there,
where, it would never do
to leave a chunk of society behind,
to leave part of the classroom behind,
because we are kainga, aiga, family,
connected with one another.

Here, where they do not always see,
that our children, too, are wholehearted.
Young people leaping off into their own lives,
sometimes, with no elders
in their boats.

Io, it is true,
we do not have a generation to waste.

You have the blade of your paddle
tei a koe rai te rapa I to oe
I have the blade of mine.

But what are our points of reference
when our celestial blueprints are lost
in dimly lit skies?

Polluted by light, smoke, fog, exhaust,
the remains of other people’s progress agendas,
as the seas swell, as ice caps melt,
as the land shrinks. 

Can we remember
the ways we expanded our islands
to the fullness of their environments?
Birds, sea, sky, coral reef, where the oceans
are our pathways to each other?

And when we find ourselves
in single file city streets,
how do we move as a collective?

How do we find our pathways
to each other?

How do we not get lost
in the narrow corridors of state houses
deciled and deprived?

We must make sure
that our minds
do not shrink to the size
of these rented, subdivided, sections
in suburban landscapes on the South-sides,
cut into pieces too small
for any harvest,
too small,
for dreaming feet.

Will our mamala trees grow
in these backyards?
Will we find the healing
that once grew on trees,
as far as the eye can see?

Can we search for the wild yams
and find the vine
that connects us to the source?

And if,
these seeds
won’t grow
in these new lands,
can we find ways to feed our families
that sustain mind, body and spirit?
Moui lelei o e sino, atamai, moe laumalie?
Can we feed what is hungry?
Can we slake the thirst of our children?

And when their bodies are tired,
when their spirits are sore,
when their bones are broken,
will we have surgeons, psychiatrists,
psychologists, niu healers
in our vaka?  
Knowing that,
O le fogava’a e tasi.
There is only one deck.

And there are those,
trained to feel the swells,
the deep swells,
which we have never known
the likes of before.
One cut to the body is a cutting.
More than one cut to the body is a pattern.
Are there those among us,
trained to see these swells?
Feel the deep water currents?
Follow that underwater lightning
to where it might strike?

Are there safe hands
on our vaka
to hold these children?
For there is only one deck.

And for those
who are fearful and frightened,
can we create spaces where we say,
I lafoia I le fogava’a tele.
Cast it on the big deck.
Let us share in your fear and pain,
this is our cultural terrain,
and there is room for you.

We don’t leave anyone behind.

For you are bound to us in love.
We are bound to you in service,
we are bound to each other
in respect – fa’aalo’alo, faka’apa’apa.
We know there is only one deck.

Even if
our mamala trees won’t grow
in this foreign soil,
we will plant and cultivate
the ability to relate.

We will nurture the essence
of who you are.

We will go forward into our past
and bring us back to our future.

We will grow mutual understandings.
Because remembering
who we are
and living
what that means,
in spaces and places
that constrain and contain
all we were meant to be.
The stakes are high,
and it is never just “a nice to have”
it’s about collective destiny.

And as a new generation
grows up
understanding better
how the system works,
they will step up, work hard,
to make the system
work for us.

We will be
the people
that we’ve been called
to be.

we are the ones
we’ve been waiting for.

I am lonely

This truth seeks out the hollow,
finds it mark,
rests inside me.
It fits the curve of my ache
more than the question of
who loves me.

I am lonely
and do not
have a circle of women
to sit around me
and meditate their conscious will
into the world.

How I crave
like minds
like mine
the tapa of
the symmetry
of thought
making patterns
and disconnecting
between us.
The talanoa
like rain
on the roof
making us feel safe.

How I miss all of this
and all of you who I do not know
But need.