OTAKI- poem by Karen Butterworth


At one side of Mill Road knots of escaped
smokers wrestle with their Reo. On the mural
behind them wahine display their skills beneath
the thrusting taiaha of Motai Tangata Rau.

Across the street a grey army of Margarets, Joans,
Barbaras, Jims, and Bills minds everyone’s
business at a cosy tempo in supermarket,
library, Lotto shop, Edhouses, RSA and
Op shop, secure in their tikanga pakeha.

At the golf club tui croak ‘Fore!’ between tunes.
Pheasants nest by shelter belts, pukeko strut between
harakeke and the two kinds of puha. Burnt spoons,
beer bottles and pill packets are thrust into hedges.

In Te Rauparaha Street a fruit salad of whakapapa
shapes the features of Xiao Long (Little Dragon)
aka Paikea, as he moves from kura kaupapa to Mummy,
Daddy, Nanny, and Great Nan, switching between his
three languages like a chameleon.

Rangatahi hang out round the seats across from
Hamish’s pharmacy. Are these the kids who smash
shop windows by night? Or win Shakespeare,
whaikorero and kapa haka competitions?

On fertile land cupped by mountains, sea
and river, the township simmers its soup of
cultures, kinships, ages, sins and virtues:
until an outside threat sends feet, wheelchairs
and mobility scooters pounding to the
Memorial Hall in defence of local taonga.

More than a generation since the three-iwi dream
was dreamed, Otaki pulses in the palm of
Whata the visionary, Rangiatea stands erect,
its wairua risen from ashes. Ancient crafts thrive
and Te Reo Rangatira is spoken in the streets.

This place has chiseled it’s moko into
the deepest layers of my skin.

 Karen Peterson Butterworth

Previously published: Heartland Poetry: Poems from the Community (Upper Hutt City Library 2010)