Pigs, potatoes


They name two pigs for us, to kill, and cook,
and feast upon. We hear them chant outside
the small slab hut where we are kept, hands tied
by manacle and chain. ‘No one will look
for us out here,’ sighs Newsham. And he’s right,
how many miles we are from any track.
I feel a knot of bruise upon my back,
where I was struck by stirrup iron that night,
two days ago, or one? It’s hard to tell.
In cold and smoke I feel my bare skin shrink.
Our bowl of water isn’t fit to drink,
being soured with blood. That maddening smell:
our porcine namesakes roasting on the fire.
They’ve thrown us pigs’ potatoes, green and raw,
but they’ve rolled from our reach. The earthen floor
is hard beneath my bones as I retire,
attempting sleep. The chiefs have been talked round,
but it would seem not everyone’s disposed
towards this railway. And so the survey’s nosed
a little further, only to be found
out by Tekau-mā-rua. Now here we are.
‘My pipe was in my coat,’ my cellmate cries,
hands jerking uselessly. They must despise
me most of all, since that time at the pā
at Parihaka, where I was the one
who placed the survey pegs, which they removed.
I work at freeing a hand. By day, it’s proved
successful. Then the light reveals a gun
poked round the door. A man walks in.
‘It is I, it is I, my children,’ comes his voice.
It is Te Kooti. All of us rejoice.
I greet him choked with tears as thick as sin.


Eggs for any army

Ōngarue, 1940s


Lucky winter weather! The line is blocked up
with another slip, and the train is filled with
soldiers! Here we come in our dancing dresses,
rushing to greet them.
One by one, the houses light up like flowers,
doors thrown open. Usher them in, to sleep on
sofas, hearthrugs. And in the morning, all our
eggs in their pockets.



Airini Beautrais lives in Whanganui. Her most recent collection of poetry is Dear Neil Roberts (VUP 2014). In 2016 she completed a PhD in Creative Writing at the IIML. A new poetry collection resultant from her thesis is due out in June 2017.