Aotearoa, November 2020



i am not and have never been fluent in reo maaori.

all i know is       phrases from books or mouths.

it’s been                       a while since i was rumbling with partial-speech,

playing hide and seek in the back                  garden of my nan’s house,

screaming       where are oooooo       as a wero                     to whoever heard it.


in the beginning we all            started as        babblers,


Hic- hic            -hic      cuping             ngaa kupu


i try to put my  pounamu on my niece                       but she throws it in the grass,

or     it with her gums;    chomping,      glurging,                     cutting her new teeth.

our girl is still babbling but the language of anarchy is innate.

polished stone can feel as heavy as              whakamaa around the neck,

and gems and bones are        for    trees, anchored on the paepae.

when i was young i would say                        nehore in the  face of my maatua keke

then                 run to the back room              behind the wharenui                           with my cousins,


climbing to the top       of the    mattresses,     saying              shhh                shhh             shhh.

us babblers always stay afloat.


my niece         sends me a mass of              facebook stickers       that all say –

she likes to mash                    the keyboard,                          she likes to      make the screen dance.

she uses te reo           like a freshly                bought card right out              of the plastic;

some   come in pairs,                        some in singles, some                        are prettier than others.

her mum is studying maaori when she has time, she says, kai, baby!

but kai sounds like stasis, like an                               evening of imprisonment,                   it has no music.

whereas the sound of                         her koro knocking at   the door is a bird song,

our girl greets it           with     ko!                              ko!                                           ko!


i see my niece                         still has some sign whenever             she sees a     in a field

her fists                       clench and                             rock, mimicking          the sway of the pommel on its back

my mama pushed       me to keep up             my sign                                               but

language is impossible           to barter with,                          its skin is                    slick and slivering

you have to                 swim with it                             you have to flow, to babble,               to float on your             back

instead of standing with          primordial swipecards, outside                         the door           hoping for access;



he?                         he aha?             


he?                                    a?



i am not           and have never been fluent in                                                te reo maaori,

so i have to start         at the very beginning, at the age                   of the babbler

i have to return to the days                 where i shouted                      nehore                        and ran for my life.



i have to take  that slow journey through maturity               kupu                by           

when my reo               grows i will be able to follow the moko through the shrubs,

and i may even find                that small version       of                    myself still hiding there

i may be able to say,                                                                 finally,


teenaa koe



Michelle Rahurahu (Ngāti Tahu-Ngāti Whaoa, Rangitāne) is a writer living on Te Ākitai Waiohua whenua. She is a proud CODA, fluent in New Zealand Sign Language.