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?
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,
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.