Photograph by Travelling Pooh
From PN Review:
Here are some words I’ve been writing down recently: Mingimingi. Ponga. Horoeka. Titoki.
They are very busy, these words, doing more than describing what they stand for – various plants and bushes and trees that make up the vegetation of New Zealand – for they are also busy being those strange far away leaves and twigs and branches on the page. Miro. Rewarewa. How strange they are for me to write, these words packed and alive with consonants, each with its own shape, both closed and open-mouthed. Say Whauwhau – an unknown form upon the page.
Years ago, I wrote – not a poem, for I am not a poet – one of my ‘things’, as I call the short poem-like items that sometimes appear in my work, called ‘Ngaio’. It was in a collection called 44 Things and now I see that the little piece – about a kind of branch that I may have come upon in New Zealand, in reality, or in a dream, that stood, in the ‘thing’, for the image of my daughter sleeping – was the beginnings of a wider project.
Part of that enterprise is a piece called ‘Going Bush’ that I am writing for Daniel Gunn’s ‘Cahier’ series, which I have started and am now deep inside. ‘Going Bush’ – not its original title, originally I had something far more aesthetically pleasing that seemed to marry the otherness of the meaning of that word ‘bush’ with the safe, familiarity of the European, so ‘Wairarapa Notebook’ the earlier version was called – comprises an essay and story and is an enquiry into the nature of New Zealand vegetation, and in it I have picked up that branch of ngaio, I might say, and set it in front of me again, and asked what it might mean.
There it is, amongst my list of words: Ngaio. Miro. Rimu. These are trees. Along with Totara. And Kauri.