Welcome to Turbine | Kapohau 20
You find yourself at the Intergalactic Institute of Post-Post-Modern Letters, Wellington 2060. All viruses have been eradicated, the three-day work week implemented, undesirable work fully automated, and the rich heavily taxed. However, a 150% increase in free time has had its problems for the writing community—with all the extra pressure to create, not only is there more work than ever to plow through, it’s all plagued by a distinctly post-20s writerly-self-consciousness, symptomatic of pedantic second guessing and overbearing proofreads.
As a budding writer yourself, in a world that somehow still devalues your art on a monetary level, you decide to turn to the past for inspiration. You walk into the MA library and are greeted by the resident Bill Manhire avatar, sitting pensively beside the window. He turns to you with a kind smile and a silver chapbook, and offers to take you on a virtual tour of any historical issues of Turbine | Kapohau. There is nothing printed in the book, but after you’ve stared for a while, you look around and see all the past issues revolving around you in a ghostly hemisphere of words.
Which one to select? Which of the works would have been created in a society most different to the one you live in now? Which holds the products of the greatest collective anxiety, the most acute existential dread? You select the year two thousand and twenty. The world woven together by the writers materialises.
You are standing in the stairwell of Te Papa. The skeletal silhouette of Phar Lap is suspended above you, striping your face with the shadows of bones. The champion racehorse’s inner organs, you learn, are located in Canberra. Your own inner organs twist in sympathy, and the twisting sensation spins you into a different sort of shadow—
You step outside and meet Old Nick, a hulking man carrying a chook upside down in one clenched fist. ‘Rats taste good with beans,’ he says, and you feel a moment of appreciation for the food rations that you’re presently enjoying in 2060, even if they come out of a toothpaste tube.
The time of day changes and, as if blown by a celestial breeze, you find yourself on Tinakori Road, which still maintains repute in 2060 for having one-fifth of the former Katherine Mansfield house still standing. In the simulation, though, the house is complete. You walk inside and observe a dollhouse. It makes you think of nesting dolls, a house within a house within the IIPPML. A flash of motion makes you turn: you see a girl reach into the dollhouse and slip the doll in her backpack, as if it is the most important thing she has ever held, as if it could be a solution.
You move further down the street, wondering what you will discover next. Stopping in front of an apartment block, you hear someone singing. A refrain ringing along in accompaniment to a softer audio track, in earnest, learning the melody by heart: like a sparrow with a broken wing / who’s coming back to beg you to reconsider me / oh, reconsider me. As you carry on, you find yourself humming the melody until a tug on your elbow snaps you out of your reverie.
You look down to find a little kid staring up at you, brandishing a raised elbow with a plaster stuck on. “Look,” the kid says, ripping off the plaster with gusto, “it’s just skin underneath!” And indeed it is.
It is beginning to drizzle, so you step into the warm yellow light of a nearby living room, where two men play a game of chess until the sun flashes out from behind the clouds. Outside again, you walk next to a pregnant woman through the neighbourhood, studying her preoccupied face with curiosity, the wind catching at her loose gold cardigan that disguises the curve of her belly.
The sun sets, leaving you cold. You run through the tunnel under Mt Victoria and can’t shake the chilly feeling that you’re being followed, possibly by the ghost of someone dead, possibly by three very alive girls whispering about tales of murder. You exit the tunnel and take refuge in a white cube of a room, where a researcher leafs through issues of the Cook Islands Review. She is following the trail of words penned by the writer Pāpā John Numa, piercing through layer after layer of colonised pages.
Somewhere a bell rings. You swivel again to find its source, and move onwards into a university classroom. The instructor has already begun, leading a discussion of the California farmworker movement led by Larry Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz, and Cesar Chavez. The phone on her lectern is winking: someone is calling her, and the worry on her face as she looks at the screen makes you wonder if something is wrong. She picks up the phone and makes her way out of the classroom.
The motion of her leaving sends you, too, drifting upwards. You ascend through an array of kaleidoscopic colour that condenses and fractures again into a version of Central Park that reminds you of the last time you took LSD (legalised across the galaxy in 2043). You blink, your hands inexplicably raised at your sides like a Tyrannosaurus Rex’s claws, and someone whirls a netball past your face, which you certainly can’t catch with your tiny T-Rex claws. You pivot instead, hearing the swish of the net as someone scores– the end of the game, a rising chorus of victory.
The sound mutes, mellows, lingers. The night progresses onward. Standing in the darkness, you are held by the warm rustle of women’s voices shifting between bunk beds after a long day of work in the Italian rice fields, speaking about the possibility of war. The dawn of the next day, too, brings you stories of strong women who carry memories of battles. An old woman—Ha-mi—stands next to her granddaughter. She holds out her hand to you as you pass. In the lines on her palm, you learn about her journey as a child fleeing to South Korea after the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. You see her curled up under a blanket in a handcart, letting the taste of sugarcane lull her to sleep, which sends you, too, towards dreaming—
You’re in a library. A bee flies past. You know it holds all the answers to everything been and gone. The feeling is terrifying for a moment but then somehow, reassuring, everything you’ve ever experienced suddenly reduced to a simple binary— it either exists or it doesn’t.
You blink and find yourself in a derelict Wellington flat. Stumble a little. Is this floor on a lean? Did one of these writers live here? That wouldn’t fly these days. You walk out the front door. Instead of finding yourself in the garden, you’re on the porch of a city-owned apartment. There’s an old man, smoking a cigarette with shaky hands. The sense of surety you’d carried with you from the library disappears as quickly as it arose. You stroke the concrete walls, can feel this building was built with better intentions than that dodgy house you just left—but the execution is off. Something crucial was lost in the process.
You don’t dwell long, step back into the apartment and find yourself in an old schoolhouse. Look out a window and see Taranaki Maunga just as the sun starts to set. There’s dogs barking and birdsong coming from every direction. People talking too, debating, believing each other, not-believing.
You walk outside and look upon a white-cliffed island, suddenly nostalgic for simpler times and a colder ocean. Turn to your side and see a Moa sculpture, plastic plumage constructed from old milk bottles, all of your questions about the nation’s psycho-cultural history compounded in the questionable sculpture.
You think again about the people in the houses, wonder what they’d make of this future if they could see it—whether the political systems, social systems, economic systems were really upheaved after the pandemic or just given a quick polish. Made to look new.
As if in answer, a beautiful winged woman lands before you and offers a small bag of money. Is that the tooth fairy? Was this a typical method of wealth redistribution in 2020? You try to ask about the world from which they sprung, but the creature flies away, sash sparkling in the wind. Perhaps the questioning wasn’t such a good idea.
Your confusion increases when you look into the bushes and see a man with a rose bush growing out of his mouth. Was this another flight-of-fancy or did these creatures freely roam the earth forty years ago? Either answer is beginning to seem just as likely.
You walk out onto the road, cloaked in a hazy grey sheen from the heat of the day. There’s the smell of petrol, and even though you’ve never smelt the prehistoric gas, you’re somehow sure it’s 95. It’s unsettling and you wonder whether this is a result of your historical displacement or some kind of authorial intention.
It’s quickly replaced by the smell of tempering spices, mingling with sweet, burnt wheat. Then of golden broth and bannock, the air thick, warm and salty. It changes again, now cold and empty, as if you’re standing under some kind of air conditioning device. Is that the smell of raw meat? The scent of animal products usually makes you feel sick—unused to it as you are —but in here it carries something extra-sensory, speaks of a complicated connection to something, entirely opaque until now.
Why is the breeze arranging smell and emotion in such confusing and contradictory ways? You’re not sure, but it’s compelling to say the least.
Suddenly, you fall into a trance. Voices cloud your vision. Twenty incantations from the hottest poets circa 2020.
The end of the Berhampore golf course, the last golf course on earth, is nigh
and nursing departments will rise again…
“yesterday was mores and lores
tomorrow we could reimagine, may not emerge immediately,
is this belonging?”
You have lived before and you will live again…
You have been a married couple cutting the wings off a bee-woman
in the dead of night, with pruning shears;
you have been an echidna sharing hot chips on the beach, with a spider.
Once, you were a parking warden,
soon you will be a floral sheet hanging on the line…
Do you remember when you were six oranges on a doorstep,
or a blender with a chrome base?
“Shapes loom like memories, and disappear.
This cup of coffee. That date you missed.”
But they happened. You talked to your son in a funeral home,
you drove past pine forests and wondered about roots and links.
You have loved Hana Tapiata,
felt frightened by the consequences of not liking potato salad…
You have considered ways to observe the human brain,
tasted their metallic,
prayed for your ageing marriage at one altar, and stability at the next.
Being alive is being a triangle in a paper fortune teller.
“I’m terrified of the credits,
never knowing if they’re
opening or closing.”
You blink and fall out of the trance. The simulation has ended. The Bill Manhire avatar is sitting on the purple couch. ‘Did you enjoy the tour?’ His head shimmers a little, pixelating.
You walk out and stand beneath the blossoms. Under the spreading arms of these ancient, persevering trees, you think that even though 2020 went down in history as the year where the pandemic began, it was also the year where writers carried on…
The blossoms fall on your shoulders and they whisper…
think light is proof that something is happening
right before us—even when my vision stutters and I have no
reason to believe in hope—even when the deceits and
machinations of the present day seem unavoidable—it’s
enough to look up at a sky blushing red and
see possibility—to not worry how the end will reveal itself”
A glitch. Haze.
And then you are a newborn, in safe hands.
The editors extend our deepest gratitude to Anahera Gildea for providing guidance on te reo Māori, Katie Hardwick-Smith for her administrative prowess, Rachel O’Neill for the technical support and the gorgeous layout, Robbie Duncan for the masterful audio recordings, Emily Perkins for holding it down and getting us across the finish line, and all of the authors in this year’s issue for choosing Turbine | Kapohau and for trusting us with your work.
ABOUT THE EDITORS
In 2060, Joanna Cho, Olly Clifton, and Rose Wunrow will be kicking it hard in the closest thing we have to a holodeck… until then, they will be wandering the Earth, trying to do their very best.