Beautrais, Airini

New Zealand, (b. 1982)

Pigs, potatoes
Te Kumi, 1883

  1. They name two pigs for us, to kill, and cook,
  2. and feast upon. We hear them chant outside
  3. the small slab hut where we are kept, hands tied
  4. by manacle and chain. ‘No one will look
  5.  
  6. for us out here,’ sighs Newsham. And he’s right,
  7. how many miles we are from any track.
  8. I feel a knot of bruise upon my back,
  9. where I was struck by stirrup iron that night,
  10.  
  11. two days ago, or one? It’s hard to tell.
  12. In cold and smoke I feel my bare skin shrink.
  13. Our bowl of water isn’t fit to drink,
  14. being soured with blood. That maddening smell:
  15.  
  16. our porcine namesakes roasting on the fire.
  17. They’ve thrown us pigs’ potatoes, green and raw,
  18. but they’ve rolled from our reach. The earthen floor
  19. is hard beneath my bones as I retire,
  20.  
  21. attempting sleep. The chiefs have been talked round,
  22. but it would seem not everyone’s disposed
  23. towards this railway. And so the survey’s nosed
  24. a little further, only to be found
  25.  
  26. out by Tekau-mā-rua. Now here we are.
  27. ‘My pipe was in my coat,’ my cellmate cries,
  28. hands jerking uselessly. They must despise
  29. me most of all, since that time at the pā
  30.  
  31. at Parihaka, where I was the one
  32. who placed the survey pegs, which they removed.
  33. I work at freeing a hand. By day, it’s proved
  34. successful. Then the light reveals a gun
  35.  
  36. poked round the door. A man walks in.
  37. ‘It is I, it is I, my children,’ comes his voice.
  38. It is Te Kooti. All of us rejoice.
  39. I greet him choked with tears as thick as sin.

Editor’s Note:

In February 1883 the Government instructed the surveyor Charles Wilson Hursthouse, and assistant surveyor, William Morris Newsham, both New Zealand-born, to survey a potential railway line through Maori lands in King Country in the western North Island.

After the surveyors refused to turn back when asked by the Maori locals, the two men were captured and confined by one Maori prophet, Te Mahuki, and rescued by another, Te Kooti, after suffering a harsh ordeal.

For more details of the actual events see: “The Hursthouse Outrage” – by Diane McKoy in The Postcard Pillar, the journal of the NZ Postcard Society, Issue 91 (May 2011), p. 7.

 Airini Beautrais. Flow: Whanganui River Poems. Wellington, NZ: Victoria University Press (2017).

About the Poet:

Airini Jane Beautrais, New Zealand, (b. 1982), is a poet who lives in Whanganui, New Zealand. In 2016 she completed a PhD in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington, NZ.

Beautrais has published four collections of poetry with Victoria University Press: Secret Heart (2006); Western Line (2011); Dear Neil Roberts (VUP, 2014); and Flow: Whanganui River Poems (2017). The last collection grew out of her thesis which she completed in 2016.

She has been published in the Best New Zealand Poems series (2016) and many literary journals, including Overland, and Penduline. [DES-04/18]

Additional information:

A random image of a pig, hog, boar or swine from the collection at Porkopolis.