Michele Leggott

te hākari / the feast

a patch of blue in the sky dear
patches of blue in the sky
gather them up and sew them
together     and soon we’ll have
a change in the weather

like the parrots
he was a whistle-speaker
whiowhio     one who turned
the world over     who named himself
the fiery god     and told his people
the truth of the Serpent
more subtle than any beast
of the field     one who knew
an apple tree when he saw it
and was not alarmed
when the god spoke through him
Te Nakahi     the snake
nahash in one tongue     naga
in another     magic, enchantment
most beautiful voice in the garden
not a lizard or a dragon
but a prophet in a red crimson cloak
whistling up a storm at Omanaia
at Rangihoua     at Ohaeawai

falling day and night
whump onto the iron roof
of the verandah     the concrete path
softer among the clivias
under the tree     or the ginger plants
in the back yard     the parrots
giving them a last going over
not cannon fire exactly
but surprisingly loud     over which
he had tied his chief’s dogskin

feasting     the birds whirl up
the seedheads snap and fall
to earth     all over the north
everywhere the big flowers were
when he lay on the marae
at Te Kotahitanga     lemon soap
scent and she     one of six
took the flower from my hands
and laid it with others on the casket
journeying to Wharepaepae

the prophet stood on a high hill
behind Te Puna and promised
things entirely new, such as had not
been seen in the world before

the missioners heard nothing more
and soon he was gone to Hokianga
if there was a feast blue eyes
missed it     and the flag
that snapped in the wind above
the people of the land     was there
a flag we ask     of course
there was a flag     a sky serpent
turning the world over     a whistle-speaker
gathering converts to the Spirit

in the photograph
evidence of an old man
at Omanaia     at rest on the marae
under a cloak and hands nearby
a weather change on the river
baptised Penetana Papahurihia
the most influential man in the District
the poet came looking for his gravestone
found him riding along back roads
many parrots whistled
hemming up blue patches in a grey sky

Michele Leggott's most recent book is Journey to Portugal (Holloway Press, 2007). She coordinates the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) with Brian Flaherty and is the inaugural New Zealand Poet Laureate.

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