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Selina Tusitala Marsh
New Zealand

Dusky Maiden Vermillion

(Pacific Island Islanders Exhibition, Waiheke Island ’07)

the artist from Holland
specialised in fat-bellied mamas
fat finger-tipped big lipped mamas feeting the fat bellied earth
like freshly muddied potatoes sunning themselves through the dirt
a kite of purpling kumara
freshly baked from her palette
simmering in browns and aubergines
fusias and dusky maiden vermillion
baked in floral hubbards
cooled down with fanning hands in flat colour
in a shadowless land
that Dutch lady sure can paint

the poet from Pasifika
her text is a canvas
her colours are monochrome
she paints stanzas of rhythmical heat
hers is a sepia spoken colour
infusing black white history
light plays on every rounded vowel
every honed letter
she sometimes paints on hands and knees
metaphors melt from her tongue
and drip onto a starbucks serviette
someone’s used Fuller’s pamphlet
an unused diary day
or in memory
tucked away in the dark jogger’s dream

the curator suggested
she talk about one
of her nicer poems
something more apropos for an opening
something more palatable with the feta and hummus meatballs
he said as he hung up a space between them
and marvelled at the divide


(For Anne Waldeman and Terry)

I stretched into a song
as the sun played my body
long and caramel
its sound resonating
with the popping sing of bubbles brewing
in Anne’s alchemy
I am her hi-fi audience
offering my ears for binding
by the chords
wrapped in her throat
her skin, veneer of rainbow
its colours
plucked with every mean chant
every highfaluting prayer
every bass guitar undulation
every saxophoned soliloquy
she is an orchestra of poets
singing suns into sons fathering
prisming indigo couplets
saffron bleeding through
calling to arms those righteous in words
those brave enough to sing
in wrapped and unwrapped throats
plucking with trained and untrained fingers
slender and meaty mighty in the delight
they press from each hb’d chord
she chants while I sauté gravy beef, onions, garlic
a little olive oil
she chants while I cook vermicelli
breaking its will with heat
I take scissors and proceed to
cut it in edible lengths
translucent chords floating
inflecting water
willowy under steaming adoration
bubbling away its song
in the alchemy of dinner
the sun bends the chord
in my ear
and Anne chants up a storm
in my kitchen
I sing with my fingers
knead words like
disembodied poetics
and recite the chant of one hundred syllables
into the dough
slap spoons stirring soy sauce into sapasui
and who’d ever know
that his pancreas is dying?
That it is most painful when lying on his back
that it is most tiring at one in the afternoon
that he can still make a poem sing its light
in four am darkness
when he tap tap taps out morphine pills
chanting its numbers down his throat
into the neurons of his brain
in a crescendo
the chemicals meet and momentarily
in a singular act of harmony
balance each other out,
then a note is broken, a path shut down
for now, so sleep can sing in his numbered suns
stop/play/fast forward
I stretched into a song
of my unmaking
the children laughed at Anne’s American droll
her hyperbolic speech blew the aluminium blinds
inside out
they forlornly wink from the windows
knowing some secret song being sung
her growling bass voice peeled the tiles
off the kitchen floor
a history of secreted meals
crumbling conversations unfit for
dinner table discussions
furry hedgehogs of rancid meat
long having lost it song of beef
still sniff at tile edges
dramatically off-centre
as most think poets to be

I turn the volume down
as the in-law comes in to check
that the pot is still round
the stove, still square
the bubbles from the sapusui are
the correct spherical dimension for consumption
and that above all
they do not sing when they pop
Anne’s a witch she says
according to the Bible
a blaspheming, hedonistic ranter
a mother
a fast speaker
I say
making singular stretch towards that sun
it shook from me a hip
then another
then plucked a twirl
sounded a clap
a jump
then hearing the music of mother’s body
the children came in
and ra ra-ed around the kitchen table.

Selina Tusitala Marsh
Selina Tusitala Marsh is of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English, and French descent. She teaches New Zealand and Pacific Literature at Auckland University.
She is currently completing her first collection of poetry, 'Fast Talking P.I.'.
The development of  Pasifika Poetry is her latest research passion.

Selina recently edited Niu Voices: Contemporary Pacific Fiction 1, Huia Publishers, a collection of short stories and poems by selected Pacific writers and poets.

"My latest research project is the development of a Pasifika Poetry web site, which aims to be a comprehensive one-stop shop for anyone interested in viewing and hearing Pasifika poets performing their work and being interviewed. Check it out at ‘’. Enjoy!" - Selina Tusitala Marsh

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