Your uncle’s story

(after Witi Ihimaera)


The first thing you need to know about your uncle is
              there was a time when he didn’t know what to do

with love—when to sing it, how to evade the sting
              in its bite. He felt the world was heavy with love—

it should’ve been his guiding light, but your uncle was
              stubborn, too proud to admit he needed directions.

Or perhaps he was too scared to learn its meaning,
              having witnessed the pain it could inflict on those

like him, men who knew better than to show the world
              the colours they kept under their raincoats.


What your uncle thought to be love was sometimes
              a diversion, a trick he played on himself to be part

of someone else’s story. Instead of fireworks, he made
             do with warm bruises pulsing in time with summer

sighs, reminders of shaken confidence and late-night
             walks through an indifferent city, fumbling towards

a happy ending. Sometimes what we crave becomes
             a self-fulfilling tragedy of pleading with whichever

greater power will grant us the grace to stumble
             through life as a liability to only ourselves.


When we confess a truth but mean the opposite—
             when we reach for comfort but find ourselves

in danger. When we miss the taste of our youth but
             our memory betrays us in the act of excavation.

When the story of your uncle is told, look up at
             the moon in its cradle, flooding the night with

endless wonder. When the story is a cautionary tale
             but also reincarnation, crossing back on itself to

learn the first word again. When that word is a word
             pressed into every hand raised asking to be named.


The story continues—sometimes with green lights
             all the way, sometimes interrupted with a kiss

your uncle would come to regret. He held on
             too closely to these detours as proof that

he had sentenced himself to the loneliest time—
             that his capacity to be happy was tainted by

who he spent his nights with and who never
             amounted to more than just a passing stranger.

And so it goes—as morning collects birdsong, each
             blunt revelation gathered to form a threshold.


There are facts to forget and stray lines to gather into
             an organised mess. Patterns may repeat

but the hope is for the outcome to surprise—that’s why
             your uncle could never escape love in all

its devotions—for you and the branches that carried
             us here, for fallen leaves playacting as

a constellation of a world before solace. You must
             believe in love—if only to know the story

of your uncle is one of many returns—of learning
             that joy need not be kept in darkness.


The memories will become family legends, and
             one day they will be all you have of

your uncle. Maybe when you’re older you’ll
             have questions to ask about which threads

to tie together to make a rope strong enough
             to keep the line between past and present

taut. Don’t let the knots slip; don’t let doubt set in.
            What’s passed down doesn’t need to be

a burden or a justification—it can be the space
             in which an entire life blooms.

Search history


Ask your parents how
they unravelled the world

before search engines.
What did they do with

the burden of the un/known?
Water tells the story of time

and the weather makes
a space for fear to curve

between selfish joys.
There is never an absence

of queries, never a question
too bright for the mouth

of the cave. Ask your parents
how many times they returned

to ground zero as a way to
unearth belief in themselves.

Once upon a time there was
a sky for every hopeful glance.

Decades have passed; the world
is still too much for safe-keeping.


Chris Tse is Aotearoa | New Zealand’s Poet Laureate for 2022-24. He is the author of three poetry collections published by AUP: How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes, HE’S SO MASC, and Super Model Minority. He and Emma Barnes edited Out Here: An Anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ Writers from Aotearoa