Moko Kauae I ~ Te Pō


My moko kauae visits me
Only in dreaming
When she’s passing through town
On her way up North

When she comes to see me,
We sit in the garden
In the long grass, a cellulose fence
Guarding our kingdom of kōrero

She whispers sweet nothings to me
In a reo only the two of us share
We sip kawakawa tea
Steam rising like smoke signals

I inch closer and closer
As she recalls her travels,
If there were cracks in her lips
I would be able to taste them

When gasps escape my naked mouth
Our voices punctuate the air
Like sheet music
And as they kiss consume

My kauae can’t stay long though
Her adventures beyond our palace walls
Await her,
And I’d be rude to keep her

She’ll return soon, I know it
But perpetually,
She leaves me urging for more
‘Tis twenty year til then

Moko Kauae II ~ Te Wehenga

Hold me down moko kauae
Spread my skin moko kauae
Slice me open moko kauae
Fill me up moko kauae
Heal my sins moko kauae

Moko Kauae III ~ Te Ao Mārama

I take selfies in my full length mirror
Wearing only the moko kauae Instagram filter
The microscopic haze of dust
And Bare Minerals foundation
Can’t hide what the camera throws across my chin

Courtesy of Daddy Zuckerberg
I enjoy the mana wahine aesthetic
Completely consequence free
Then save it to drafts
Where I save all my other identities

I practice arguments with my naked self
Because the words cut so much deeper
Like obsidian in the flesh of my tūpuna
When even I can’t take my eyes off my own inked lips
Words animated by my birthright

In black and white photos
My nana’s nana wears a real kauae and piupiu
But over long pants, long sleeves, long-necked shirt
Climbing up her throat, a colonial noose
Her mouth pressed closed hard

When I take selfies in my full length mirror
Wearing only the moko kauae Instagram filter
I feel the noose loosen
But only until my phone dies
Draft not saved


Rachel Trow (Kāti Māmoe, Kāi Tahu | Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) is a writer, editor, and librarian based in Te Matau a Māui. Her work has been published in Starling, Te Karaka, and Pantograph Punch, and she is a former co-editor of Salient. She enjoys reparations, climate justice, and Oxford commas.