Topic: Karearea Flies Over Me by Kristina Jensen

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Karearea Flies Over Me by Kristina Jensen was an entry in the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition.

Archived version here.

Karearea * flies over me, a bellbird clutched in its talons, four metres above my head. I am standing high on a ridge above the sea overlooking Queen Charlotte Sound. The little bird is struggling feebly, probably near death. I hope it is quick. The thought of that sharp pointed beak tearing magnifies the sensations in my own heart.

This morning, I watched my mother and her friend motor away in a boat across the grey green water to Picton. I am the little bird. My mother is a bird of prey. Her fierce claws dig into me, reminding me of eternal ties that bind.

A raw exhausted feeling fills my body. A combination of crying and trying to speak while crying releases some of the anguish hiding there. Close to the surface, my husband observes. It’s because she has been here. It’s only natural that you should feel this way. Remember that we love you, we are here for you, whatever you are, whatever you choose to be, we are here with you. He knows you see, how hard I try to defend myself from the pain of this bond but end up imitating it by closing myself down.

I am comparing my own mother to a falcon, beautiful deadly creature. I remind myself that it is just a metaphor to help me to understand what I am feeling …… and fearing. Everything seemed calm and peaceful when she arrived. The little bird was playing in the trees, telling herself that it’s OK to be who she is; to write and play and dance and sing. But straight away, a sense of menace creeps in. A sudden rush of dark wings will sweep away the good moments with pointed criticism or disapproving facial expressions.

I am sad. I feel helpless to change this relationship. I wonder if death will somehow release us both from having to maintain a connection. We seem to act as if we have to put up with each other and if it weren’t for the labels of ‘mother’ and ‘daughter’, we may never cross paths. In fact, at a social gathering, would we have such a strong aversion to each other that we wouldn’t even give each other a second glance?

I have spoken to one woman who told me that after the death of her mother, she felt so free, so relieved. She felt as if she had finally been given permission to be herself. This seemed so tragically funny and yet I understand it today, in a soft deflated sort of way. Maybe we will never go to that place where I can know her fears, her passions, her crazy dreams and deepest visions. I on the other hand, according to her, have displayed mine out loudly and immodestly for anyone to see.

Guilt surges up, tasting like the salty sea tears. How can I say these mean things and make such a savage comparison? What if her friends read this and condemn me as an unloving ungrateful daughter? I should love my mother unconditionally, with compassion. God knows I search for the balance between the things that challenge and test me, and the love that is always there, no matter what.

During our latest time together however, I chose to be bold and experiment. I spoke to my mother’s friend who, being younger than her, is in between us in age. I told her about my sensations of being out of my body. I shared some of my dreams with her. She in return told me of long silences between she and her husband when they try to discuss the matter of a house extension that he wants but she doesn’t. She ventured a little of how she feels, that she has days when she wakes up and feels useless and hangdog and what’s the point and I see that she is not afraid to say it but has also accepted it as a part of life.

During these exchanges, my mother is in the room and remains silent. I haven’t the nerve to ask her if she feels anything in relation to what we are discussing. I feel we are reluctant miners; we only venture a little way underground. The surface is safe, what are we having for tea, thank you for a lovely meal dear, I’ll do those, dear. Is it pain I can see in your face? So you can’t hide it from me, because I know you are a grin-and-bear-it sort of woman who would have to be very nearly dead to even consider stopping for a moment.

Please don’t get me wrong; I admire my mother’s tenacity and grip on life. She has almost died from asthma several times as a child. Had her foot crushed by the bucket on the tractor and still went out to a function with that poor swollen black-and-blue foot crammed into her new black shoes. Greeted the new pastor at the door with a huge patch over one eye, concealing the tiny scar where a minute piece of metal flicked up from the tractor exhaust and embedded itself into the soft tissue of the eye, removed by the doctor. ‘So glad you came, my husband’s been beating me up again’, just so she can see the shock on the poor man’s face.

I remember my mother’s enormous capacity for giving. The way she bought soup and bread to school because she believed that lunchbox thefts weren’t so much about catching the thief but feeding the miscreants properly. It is so easy to get caught in the thickness of blood and the bad and ugly and forget the good, the selflessness, the toil that is simply her way of being in the world. She is getting old and perhaps my husband is right when he theorizes that we eye things, people, events ever more narrowly, when we get old.

I’m not so sure about this because I am thinking of karearea and bellbird again; the perspectives that we both create from our differing vantage points. My mother sees everything. She watches like a hawk. She has something to say about any topic apart from feelings and theology. A sneaky thought disarms me there; what if she just doesn’t talk to me about that kind of stuff? Then I would be just ‘pot calling the kettle black’. Just like my mother would say, see, she knows.

I push away the little voices. They are right of course. I judge unfairly and acidic phrases fire irrationally like gunshot. They ricochet, coming out of nowhere, pissing me off. I’m watching my every move and declaring scathingly that there, see, why do you even bother? There’s no point because you will fail even before you get half way there. I am a cruel unforgiving bitter woman blaming her own shortcomings on her mother.

I must stop nurturing these voices. I cannot blame my mother for how I feel about myself, and my life’s choices at nearly forty five years of age. I should have learnt to be strong and unwavering and in command of my own destiny by now. Maybe it’s time to make a stand, open the trapdoor and go underground. Oh, yeah, the metaphors are all great to say but it’s not going to happen this time, maybe next time, I say to myself but do you know, I have said that so many times. Maybe this time we will talk about how it feels to grow old and lose the flexibility and stamina of your younger days. I want to ask her: Are you scared of dying? Did you have spiritual awakenings? Did you wonder what it was all for, your life?

Bellbird is busy down below in the manuka, flitting to and fro. An energetic little ball of pomposity, she dives and preens and hops up and down the branches with a gaiety that makes me laugh, with a confidence that I know. As long as she keeps herself focused, keeps the affirmations coming strong and always starts at the beginning, she’ll learn what she needs to know to get through. It looks just like a piece of hard brown bark but underneath there are bugs and bird goodies to savour, so stay in the moment. But beware little green and gold songster. Beware those talons. They are always near and hovering, fiercely screeching out that you accept the plan on their terms.

One soft green-grey feather floated down from the little body of the bellbird to land at my feet as it was spirited away in the falcon’s claws. Tears spring to my eyes as I remember my mother; her stories of the girl she was, and the woman she is now. All these moments and memories can be soft feathers lining my own nest of dreams.


* karearea is the Māori word for the native New Zealand falcon, Falco Novaeseelandiae.



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