Topic: Woman/Wāhine (Tauranga, 29 April 1864) by Debbie McCauley

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Woman/Wāhine (Tauranga, 29 April 1864) by Debbie McCauley was one of six finalists in the Battle of Gate Pā Poetry Competition (2014). The poem was read aloud at the Prize Giving and Awards Evening held at Elizabeth Café & Larder at 5.30pm on Thursday 6 March 2014.

Tenā Koe - Thank you.

 

When Buddy announced the Gate Pā Poetry Competition my thoughts immediately turned to the women involved, as so much of the history available on the Battle of Gate Pā at Pukehinahina is recorded from the male perspective.

 

My poem tells the story of two ordinary women, using their own voices.

 

One is European, and rather than being Archdeacon Brown’s second wife, Christina, is instead a British soldier’s wife staying at Camp Te Papa.

 

The other woman is the wife of a Māori warrior. She and her family have helped to dig the trenches of Gate Pā, before being sent to safety with the other women and children.

 

 
Woman/Wāhine (Tauranga, 29 April 1864)

 
Shrouded in the misty
landscape I pace,
first light struggles
to find its way.
 
I start the bread, the first
thunderous shell explodes.
Echoing across the harbour,
clamouring for my soul
as the cottage trembles.
 
Tears knead with prayers
in sticky dough. Armstrong,
Coehorn and Howitzer
rage tirelessly, ripping holes
through drizzling veil.
 
Nine hours later, bread
proved, baked, it stops
abruptly. The birds
remain quiet in the
heavy, twisted silence.
 
Veteran officers occupied
the oval table on battles
eve. Who lives and who
dies as 574 years of tradition
defy Queen Victoria?
 
The night is long. I gaze
up at the moon, shrouded
in a luminous cloud. Questions
are met with frigid silence.
 
Morning comes, bewildered
bluecoats stagger into
Te Papa. Dazed at defeat,
they bear wounded, dead,
their prisoners defiant.
 
My hands are covered
in blood, my back is
weary, my heart
heavy at the loss.
 
 
Shrouded in the misty
landscape I pace,
first light struggles
to find its way.
 
Palms blistered and torn.
Aching and weary from
burrowing, womblike
bunkers and veiny trenches.
From distant pā, I bleed.
 
The first booming fire
shudders Papa-tū-ā-nuku,
the dawn chorus stunned
into muteness. Civilisations
anarchistic barrage, launched.
 
Hands tremble preparing
harakeke and kawakawa.
Songs of hope and courage
hum softly, as it steadily
rains upon mother earth.
 
Nine hours pass, the
distant reverberation
dies away, the birds
maintain silent vigil in
the melancholic murk.
 
Night falls, tamariki slumber.
Outside the whare, I gaze
above to te marama, solemnly
draped in soothing cloud.
 
From darkness they silently
stumble. Shell-shocked,
bruised and bleeding. The
spirits of the dead flow to
Tūhua, and leap homeward.
 
My hands are covered
in blood, my back is
weary, my heart
heavy at the loss.

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Woman/Wāhine (Tauranga, 29 April 1864) by Debbie McCauley


Year:2014