after Kate Te Ao


There was the problem of before.
The sky was silver, but what was it before?

My uncle said: A rich soil.
Another said: The belly of a long, low note,

its stem reaching upwards forever.
Another shrugged, said: It was always just silver.

I thought the world showed itself only in what men knew
and in what they remembered.

It didn’t take long to unbury myself
but also it took all my life.

Time made its way, so shyly,
as if on hands and knees across a rooftop 

to rescue me, take me down the ladder an old woman.
I’d only just got used to being born. When we met again,

my mother said: That’s what happens. She said:
Forget all your words in one go, it hurts less.

When I started forgetting, other words reached for me.
They spoke themselves in where birds went,

and in anything that flowered,
anything that answered when I called out,

anything that covered itself in green
and revealed itself to be alive,

to have been alive all along. They spoke themselves
in silver, and many other colours.

Going rafting with my uncles


No help comes, and night is closing in
on me and my uncles. Some of us
dangle our legs in the water –

all of our heels are shaped like mallets, see,
or like they’ve been beaten with mallets.
Uncle David sits apart, drafting a group email.

Uncle Neil has lost both our oars, and I find myself
looking at his hands, his carpenter’s hands
from the 70s. How good he was at everything, how tall, 

how hungry we were for little cabinets and salad bowls.
Uncle John bundles his swanndri around me,
the one he goes eeling in. I once saw him kill an eel with a spade

while wearing it. We knew he was going to do it.
It’s in how an uncle moves, it’s in how cosy he is, it’s in
how you haven’t seen him for eighteen years and may not again,

and I wonder if I love these men – the sort of love
that is said to be deep down,
like sand that turns into a fish all of a sudden.

Oh someone save us, but do it without speaking.
Oh, something happen, something happen –
a house with lights on as we near the corner,

or moonlight too beautiful to speak of, or rain,
or, on a bank, the sound of my mother’s voice
saying how glad she is to see us,

how she had to walk for hours through the swamp.
Let us see her, holding a little dog
in one arm and a video camera in the other.


Ashleigh Young is a writer and editor who lives in Wellington. She is the author of Magnificent Moon, How I Get Ready and Can You Tolerate This? Some of her recent writing appears in The Spinoff, Newsroom and The Guardian.