Pukeahu Anthology

Dawn contra dicts

Robin Peace is an Associate Professor at Massey University’s School of People, Environment and Planning. She leads the wider Pukeahu research project, of which this anthology forms a part. Her poem ‘Dawn contra dicts’ is a reflection on the dawn blessing ceremony for Pukeahu National War Memorial Park on ANZAC day 2015, and the many histories of the area.

No Eyes, 2015.
No Eyes, 2015.
Photographer: Robin Peace.

Dawn contra dicts

4.45 am 25 March 2015
The ‘dawn blessing ceremony’ of “Pukeahu: the National War Memorial Park”

i. Gather

Dressed in morning coats, dark in the dark,
shadows shifting weight on unsure feet.
Five hundred breaths
paused on the intake of ceremony before sun comes.

ii. Move

We exhale.
There is movement now in the warming air.
The easing, shifting forward of a human weight toward
the voice of a man who describes our path:
“We will walk there …“
and he gestures to the beckoned shadow of great sandstone trees
lit enough from below for a show of ochre
on transplanted gums braced for wind.
“And then to there …”
pointing to the far corner boulders from Taranaki, that sit now
with their backshadowed memories not related here.
“And then just a few of us will go there …”
and his arm sweeps up the men in uniform and the people with names
— they know who they are —
to respect the unknown tomb filled to the brim with bones.
“And then we will end there …”
on seats facing the faceless korowai — skinny and stooped
no-eyes she, who turns and stares at what cannot be seen.

We take to the path.
Shoddings on cobbles
afraid of broken ground.

iii. Encounter

Resistance brushes shirt sleeves,
dishevels hair and voice.
A past: an unknown, unspoken, disremembered
ghost from the damp earth,
beats time
whispers of the time
and the time again
when fear led to stealthy flight
in another, earlier, darker, dark.
Women spinning silence.
Children bearing it.

We take to the path.
Past gum trees, ochre towers, and beds laid out with ground roses
petals red black in the dark to be poppy cousins to the dawn.
Shoddings on cobbles
Afraid of this beating past.

iv. Lament

Feet shuffle to stillness in chairs in the darkness.
Wind bites.
Lanyard rattles as
a gull mews, banks, and turns for the dawn.
White feathers rise.
Women’s voices rising in lament.
Clamant songs calling the older past,
calling a cadence of memories
to sorrow the underside of clouds.

Tānga o te kawa

We are not building here a new canoe, or opening a house.
Through sleight of silence we bitter the spirit weighted down with sod.

A diggers’ memorial dug from the clay whose past made bricks.
Bricking: To brick / to convict the kiln / to lay brick on imprisoned brick to build walls and tombs.

A service rendered to bless beyond reference to the past.
Blessing: To mark with blood / to make sacred / to invoke the blessing of gods who remake sacrifice.

And in the morning we will greet you, we will cry out to you.
Greeting: To call out in the dark / to make ourselves known / to harbour the stranger.

Murunga hara