We present this work in honor of the 5th anniversary of the poet’s death.
This is where they came from, the Raw Men. …And from the raw men they came. The dark men, the squat men, the slope-shouldered, solid-built men, neat in khaki.
This is where they came from, the brown men, the dark-lipped, thick black-haired raw men, born for the uniform.
Praised in the deserts of Tobruk, hailed in the heats of Mersa Matruh, gloried in Greece. We salute you, sons of New Zealand, Maori Battalion. ‘Kia ora koutou. Kia ora nga tamariki o Aotearoa’.
Yes, this is where they came from, the Raw Men, the fearless marauders of the Middle East, the ‘hard-doers’ with hearts of lions. collecting medals like stones on Hill 209 Tebaga Gap, Tunisia.
From the pubs they came, drunk on a Saturday afternoon, and the neighbour’s house afterwards, staggering, stumbling, stone-tripping homewards through the half-light of dawn.
Yes, this is where they came from, the Raw Men. From the crude-hewn, back-block, saw-screaming, sweat-sapping timber mills, they came trudging to work in the early mornings, their breaths rising in mists with the cold.
From the bush covered hill-slopes, they came, plodding homewards down the snigging track with axe slung on shoulder. Only the step is quicker now. Not the ‘Government Walk’ of the morning, going to work. And then the voice in the evening, loud & clear, carried on the throbbing air, now that the mill is silent and the darkness is falling. ‘Come round to my hut after e hoa Tai. There’s still a couple of bottles left from last night. We’ll clean them up’.
Yes, this is where they came from, the men in khaki, Tigers of Tunisia, cursing in the rains of Cairo, singing in the heats of Helwan … With a rifle in one hand and a guitar in the other. That’s us! …And a song ever ready on the tongue. That’s us! …Play hard and fight hard. That’s us! …‘Real ‘hard-doers’ those boys’, they say, ‘But I’m glad I’m on their side. Good fighters’. That’s us! The guitars and the song. The work in the mornings plagued by the dry horrors. That’s us! ‘Poor old Rangi’s got the shakes. Ha! Ha! Where you been last night e hoa?’ That’s us! The ‘No thanks, I don’t drink. Just pour it all over me, I like the smell of it’, Ha! Ha! That’s us!
Yes, this is where they came from, those men. From the street fights, the bar fights, the party fights. From sleeping with another man’s wife. From the hotel maid’s room in the morning, climbing out the window and whistling down the street, happy and full contented, home-bound, to fall into a deep, dreamless sleep. But always there is the laughter, the white teeth flashing against the thick dark lips, The grating spit-bubbling, carefree laughter. The conversation, coarse and harsh.
Yes, this is where they came from, the Maori Battalion. From the timber mill villages. deep-bushed. From the back-block settlements fringing isolated roads that make passers-by ask, ‘Don’t you get lonely here?’ And chilblain-footed children with bare feet walking to school on icy roads on frosty winter mornings.
From the shearing sheds they came. The Freezing Works. The Wool Stores. The Power Board. The bush felling. The scrub cutting. The post splitting. Truck driving. Bully driving. Cow spanking. Cattle mustering. The City Council, bare-torsoed with pick and shovel and jack-hammer, breaking up the tar-sealed pavement. ‘Gee! there was some beaut sheilas went past today’.
From the Hydro Works they came. The Construction Sites. The coal mines. Naked muscles straining, pride in pitting physical strength against work. Sweat and dirt intermingled. The Public WorksDepartment, with the children standing on the roadside, laughing and teasing, repeating what they heard their parents say ‘P.W.D…. Poor Working Devils!’ as the truck passed them along the road.
Yes, this is where they came from, those men. Knights of the Middle East. From the prisons and the borstals they came. From country school teaching and offices in a Government Department. In a city office. The WelfareDept. Maori Affairs. From lonely coastal farms, with the sound of the surf ever lapping. From sulking, slouching, lost and lonely, sullen in the alien city. Open-neck shirted wharfies. Wild in a dance, noisy in the films. Cigarette drooping-mouthed, fish and chips eating from newspaper wrappings. Billiard room haunting. Hanging about. Drunk on the street, annoying the passers-by. But always there are the exceptions. The quiet ones. The earnest ones. The deep-thinking, serious ones. As it is with everything there are the exceptions.
Yes, this is where they came from, the Raw Men. From singing in a bar led by a rich baritone voice, ‘ …Tomo mai e tama ma, ki roto, ki roto …‘ All around they are singing. Everywhere there are mouths opening and closing. Feet placed firmly apart, heads thrown back, eyes opening and shutting, enraptured in the singing. Always there is the singing. At the parties back home there was the singing. In the deserts of Egypt there was the singing. On the battlefields of Libya there was the singing. In the streets of Rome there was the singing. Going to the war and returning, there was the singing. Always there is the song and the guitars. Above it, beneath it, right through it all, there is the singing and the dancing and the laughing.
In the middle of our porridge plates
There was a blue butterfly painted
And each morning we tried who should reach the butterfly first.
Then the Grandmother said: “Do not eat the poor butterfly.”
That made us laugh.
Always she said it and always it started us laughing.
It seemed such a sweet little joke.
I was certain that one fine morning
The butterfly would fly out of our plates,
Laughing the teeniest laugh in the world,
And perch on the Grandmother’s lap.
We present this work in honor of the poet’s 115th birthday.
I am tired of all voices. Friend and fool
Have come too nearly with me to the shrine
That is the secret kept by wind and pine.
Now, when the shadowy hands of dusk are cool
About my eyes, shall silence like a god
Drive them with whips of starlight from his stairs.
Only the small grass striving in its clod,
Only the stream, that fragile moonlight bears
Like blossoms on its breast, move in this place,
All earth lies still as some beloved face
Whose dreaming mouth and deep-curved eyelids make
Bridges to God that lightest sound would break,
Towers where one word would seem iconoclast. . . .
Yet if through darkening trees you came at last,
Wearing the dew of meadows on your shoon,
And in your eyes the blessing of the moon,
I think it would be well. I think our greeting
Would be as quiet as two rivers meeting,
Which, drawn together, sparkling up in foam,
Slide into one bright seeking; and our home
Should be the furthest longing of pale seas,
Beyond the purple caverns of the trees.