Māori Softness

by Serena Ngaio Simmons


Takatāpui 2

I read a love story today
one from back home
a girl with moon skin
falls for a boy with black river hair
the best kind of love
an East Coast love
a Māori love

I remember 16
I remember 20
I remember last year
trying to make my own type of Māori classic
wanted what I read in stories missionaries
and colonized Māori preserved
never pictured the queer narratives
never imagined myself being a part of one
just dreamt of a man as enough
dreamt of a husband and a baby as enough
we would carry the lineage
we would fall into line

What else should I expect from “mana tāne” though?

Thought I had found it once
in my own forest
full of rewa
but the whole thing ended up rotting
inside stretching out,
toppled over

I was just too much tōtara to grow over

All this time
I thought my gods would send me a good tane
smart, respectful, his genealogy smiling through puhoro
but I only got scraps
boys with ego
short temper
want cradling instead of honest holding

I didn’t see her coming though
took the kaikōrero by surprise
stopped my waha in its tracks
a descendant of high mountains & the sun
several generations spent away from that home
old migration as opposed to my first generation born and raised
but both of us brought up by these islands
all of the good in her
bubbling loud at me
I was surprised
I was scared,
and I wanted all of it

A lesson in the truly ancient, a love
waiting in my blood to wake up
ancestors patient enough to ride out every time I denied myself
every time I shoved it deeper inside of me
forced myself into femme
forced myself into box,
pushed value aside and welcomed boy
stopped listening to me & heard only man,
they watched
let me come to find her on my own,
and so now

she is the first one on my mind
in the morning
before bed
in between classes
when I write
there is something in this loving we practice
that is natural
that makes sense

the type of Hine and Hine story
I never read
or heard
but that I now know exists

A queer love
that I know exists
what tūpuna wāhine left as map in my blood
in its pulsing
to help me fully be who I am
as takatāpui
as Māori

I’m Sorry

I don’t know where I’d start

Home is that place with a mouth
the only place with a mouth
‘cause it calls
makes a hole 
and puts every bad thing I’m feeling in it
home is that place that tries to protect me
by making me cry hard on a Monday night
on the walk back to my dorm
home is the place
trying all of the ways it knows
to get me to come back

Actually, should say they
should say them
should say the deep lines and ink
of my ancestors
the deep love and wairua
of my ancestors

Who are so loud
they are so loud now
more than they’ve ever been

and maybe that’s because I’m alone
and inside some child panopticon
queer and inside male and female floors
Oceanic and with no room inside
to be all of the fresh salt and water I am

maybe it’s because I wanted to die a couple of times recently
and felt like I should have kept that to myself

maybe it’s because people hurt themselves
and I don’t cope by laughing

maybe it’s because no one has the answers I want
and neither do I

everyone is poking at me
through whatever grille I’ve put up
but no one is trying to actually get close
no one is trying to get through
I am a special, pale animal
with brown eyes and dark circles
so you know I’m not pure bred

I am taking care of so many
I am quiet with so many
I am breaking with so many
but never showing it

- - - - -

I think Monday was when they hit me in a
meant-to-draw-blood kinda way,
but the blood is the tears
and the tears come from me violent
and of course,
in the rain
with the sudden realization that this is them
after all other attempts
to get my attention
telling me to come home

What hurts more than anything
is how long it took me
to feel this
what kind of walking death the institution
soaks you in
leaves dripping 
dresses you up in every morning
what kind of ways the Colonial finds you
even when you think you’ve finally evaded Him,
how much He had you out here looking like a statistic
like a blawdy Mawri
like a noble savage
like everything you hate

how long it took you
to hear them
to hear


Writer’s BIO:

A two time Semi-Finalist at Brave New Voices, Serena Ngaio Simmons (Ngāti Porou) is a queer and transmasculine writer and performer with a degree in English from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Serena was awarded the Ernest Hemingway Award for Undergraduate Poetry in Spring 2014 and was featured in LitHub’s 2016 article “Six Pacific Islander Poets You Should Know." Digging into such themes as diaspora, identity conflict, and home in her writing, her work has been featured in Storyboard, Hawaii Review, Blackmail Press, and Ora Nui. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Indigenous Politics at UHM.