The chewing starts with nail polish at five red and dirty. 

                                   Pull it off with the edge of the teeth. 

Move to chew around the nails excavate for clean skin. 

                                   Garden dirt clinging to the borders, 

dirty frames for fresh cells of family photos in different shades of brown. 

Some the colour of gravel, grazed knees with the


Laugh too loudly cover the littlest ones mouth 

            feel him scream into it adults watching. 

He starts crying and tells everyone your hands stink like blood and dirt 

                                                                                  kid stuff really. 

Wait till later scrub your hands with the lights off 

              pearlescent soap magic


              shines in the moonlight makes dirty girls clean again. 

His mother hits you looks at her hand it’s on fire it’s dirty 

 her kids get haircuts every six weeks weather they need it or not. 

Your hair reaches your thighs 

                                              plaits dropping in the sugar bowl, 

                                                                                                          crystals of snow. 

They call it lice and laugh at you Kutu kutu 

                                                     kutu girl. 

Washing it with the hose outside no hot water, 

feet in the mud diluting down to a swimmable river. 

                        Drink straight from the faucet. 

Water flow not strong enough to get the kutus out they’re under your nails 

                                                            you can see them with your eyes


you’re meant to be sleeping 

                                              sneak into the bathroom, 

                                                                     pull chunks out of the soap 

                                                          icebergs floating on a slippery lake, 

                                                                     fingers like seals diving under


We go through a bar a week all your fault, 

                                                        all your fault. 

Buy your own soap with your pocket money keep it all in a cloth bag 

scents of clean cotton, poppy and lavender. 

           Strawberry candy floss and mint. 

Just covering up the dirt the underarms, 

                                   the scalp the places the skin meets. 

You find the rat droppings in a trail, follow it all the way back to the bag. 

             Full of teeth marks, soap shavings little clumps of fur, dirt. 

                                                           Leave it there to rot, 

Hear the rats in the porch after


Dad tells you they’re water rats, 

twice the size of a normal rat and excellent swimmers. 

You find one bloated in a barrel, 

poke it with a stick to see if it’s full of soap, and tell no


A bubble slips from its mouth and shrinks. 

           It’s hard to believe that something that lives in water can be so


Before you found the rat you’d spend your nights sneaking down to the


You’d strip off your clothes walk towards the centre 

           place your hands on your body and scrub and scrub and scrub. 

When your hands weren’t enough you’d pull up clumps of sand, 

           small stones, moss and rub tiny holes in yourself. 

But then you realised even water was full of a thousand different


microbes, fish eggs, bones, cells, 

                        plants, decay, all of it. Absolutely all of it. 

Mum always told you that your father smelt like warm earth after it


                       Potential and growth, 

                       a fern uncurling on a forest floor, 

                       rising up to meet the mist. 

But you, you smell like floodwaters. Tainted and dark, 

natural and chemical. 

Dark and swift, with years and years of dirt, 

                        under the surface. 


Ruby Solly is a Kai Tahu writer and musician living in Pōneke. She has been published in journals such as Landfall, Sport, Starling, and Oscen, among others. She is currently editing her first manuscript of poetry, Toku Pāpā, about how cultural identities are passed on through parenting.