Four Poems by Ruby Solly

Pollen

Hang us together by our chests // calcium rich and hovering over // fresh pollen // floating // away from the source // gentle atop apples // rotten before they even fall // am I filled with
pollen or dust // who knows but me // in my head are bees swarming inwards // in my body
are voices that will never sing // my grandmother tells me //we are born with our
grandchildren // already inside // pearl shaped and cradled // we cut the string then loose them
// one pearl at a time // sometimes two // if you’re lucky // I think of all my pearls // dying to
dust // encased in shells // too deep for light // too foreign for home

When I was little I would get red hair // burning through the black // one here // one there // patches under black waves // tucked behind the ears // hospital corners // the precision of a
new flame // I look in the mirror at two am // make sure I have come back // from where I
went in dreaming // a white hair flows // a smooth line // next to my eye // each month
another // until a white wave gallops back at me // we call those waves horses // I hear them
running away from me // riderless and wild.

We say // with the red the black and the white // the work will be done // but what about when
you are lying // under the bones of a tree // leafless // daunting // what about the choice to sink
// rather than swim // the taste of drowning // that no one talks about // I’ll be lying // at the
bottom of those waters // my belly full of wings // and yearning // until I manage to weave //
something that will stay // long enough to go

 
Image Credit: Carmen Lomas Garza, Camas para Sueños, 1985, gouache on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool and the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program, 1995.94, © 1985, Carmen Lomas Garza
 

Six Years

You pin a picture of my mountain above our bed.
I cry a river into the sheets.
You walk out into the night
and wring them out over our garden.
Now everyone who eats its’ fruit
will feel their body melt
into rain that never stops breaking.

Around here the clouds just kept opening wider.
We are trapped here in back rooms,
in baths of warm petrichor.
It presses hands into our throats.
When we were teenagers,
we would go months without touching each other
I would lie on the roof and make you new constellations.
I’d see all the stars in a long line with you waiting at the end.

The stars are so close now.
I see all twelve heavens and you are in every one.
You are the house, the home
and the hostess.
You are the fireside and the glowing;
never flinching when I come home from the dark
pulling arrows from my chest
only to be shot again.
Never crying when I pull my bones out
to carve them.

An Aunty said to me that a mountain looks different
depending on where you stand.
You, bird like you
soaring around me,
watching me through a prism
of all the selves we have shed.
We keep them as coats
hung dark in our closet.

Your light beckons from the porch
unlocking warmth in every house I’ve ever lived in.
We know those past lights aren’t real.
But as the moths are shedding dust again
let’s say they were.
See the care heat gently within the bulb.
The warm smell of bread
rising in the filaments.

From the outside they see the sun and moon of this;
the duality spiralling downstream.
The bodies that span entire plains
pressed into each other.
What they don’t see
is me sitting gentle on the floor,
you brushing my hair
accepting that I will not cut it until I’ve finished growing.
Because of the way you touch me
I will be growing until my soul is too big for my body.
Until it drips from my mouth.

 
 

Māmā I Have a Confession

I’ve started smoking again
you see I’ve been pukuriri
for a long time now
I’ve guzzled oceans
trying to put out the fire
kept my mouth closed in the city
waited till I’m home to fill the house with steam
had cold baths to quell it
fogged the windows up
then dripped down
to circulate again

I’ve seen what happens
when women stop smoking
when they lie dormant and green
If we’re not smoking
we’re dead to them
they drive over us
fence us smaller hips and waistlines
shape breasts for show not nourishment
cut us up
donor status ensured
with our mouths firmly closed

open my mouth in the dark
and see the embers glowing.
It’s been so dark recently
that I’ve been my only source of light
so Māmā I wanted to tell you first hand
that I am smoking again

Māmā this is a fire of occupation
I feed it every time I breathe
through all these slashes
I’ve learnt open wounds
need air to heal
they don’t deserve to be kept in the dark
I know that unless our fires are burning
we’re not welcome here
that the grass can be pulled
from under our feet
Māmā I want to be welcome in my own body
I want to take up all the space inside myself
so that I’m never hungry again

 
 

At the end of my hands

He’s got it he’s got it

look at him scoop his hands in the stream

wait for the kouras to walk in.

He’s growing them

at the end of his hands

 

Guess I left my Māori magic at home

still waiting for it to blossom

from my finger tips.

fresh berries with poison kernels

left unwashed.

Left to rot in the stream

their bag mulching flax

flowing to the sea.

 

See me talk to the tūī in the box

thin as a razor,

four times as blue.

Watch me sing in our words

tell him he’s my brother.

He stops moving.

See him breathe to the bottom of his lungs.

Look at my eyes

they are as black

as the beginning.

 

When dreaming you watch someone act

from behind the stage.

Mātakitaki ngaro;

hidden gaze watching.

Don’t look now

for my spirit is leaving my body.

Don’t look now

for I am a bird seeking

a peak past the clouds.

I dream in words I don’t know

scream inside myself

I get     yes,     yes,       no,       yes,     no,       maybe

curdling the subconscious.

 

I have seen this all before

I swear on my next move.

I can change the future past

just by shifting your place at the table.

watch me say your words

across from you

not watching your teeth.

Cover your mouth

test me                         test me

I can sing your music

while it’s still inside you.

Read your tea leaves

before you even take a sip.

 

At night I see the world shivering

like light breaking apart

then it creeps into the day.

Warm milk spilling

from a cup made of stars.

See the white lines of it

touch the edges of what we don’t notice.

That bird on the top of the tree

he is bathed in white lines threading.

Watch them catch fire white to gold,

sugar turning black

in a new sea rising.

 

It’s so easy isn’t it

credit this to a dream

credit that to the ancestors.

Watch them sing me home from a shoreline

deep under water

lungs bubbling over.

Cut me with your steel

and watch me refuse to bleed.

I only bleed for pounamu

and I have to do it myself.

I’ve got that old school Māori magic.

I’m stopping time

and you don’t even notice me growing

while you sit around

and wait.

 
 

Header Image Credit: Sebastian Lowe and Ruby Solly. Other images, except for “Camas para Sueñosby Carmen Lomas Garza (second image) via The Smithsonian American Art Museum, courtesy of Ruby Solly.

About the author

Ruby Solly is a Kai Tahu / Waitaha writer and musician from Aotearoa, New Zealand. She has had poetry and creative non-fiction published in Landfall, Sport, Poetry NZ, Starling, Mimicry, Minarets, E-Tangata, The Spinoff, and Pantograph Punch amongst others. Victoria University Press will be publishing her debut book of poetry 'Tōku Pāpā' in 2021. Ruby is also a scriptwriter and her film 'Super Special' which aims to share knowledge around traditional Māori views and practices around menstruation has been featured in film festivals within New Zealand and the US. As a musician, she has played with artists such as Yo-yo Ma as part of his Bach Project, Trinity Roots, Whirimako Black, Rikki Gooch, and Ariana Tikao. Ruby is a taonga puoro (traditional Māori musical instruments) player and therapist with a first-class master's in music therapy where she conducted kaupapa Māori research into the use of taonga puoro in acute mental health. As a taonga puoro player and therapist, she is privileged to work around Aotearoa with people from all walks of life sharing the taonga of her ancestors. She will be beginning a PhD to further her research this year. Her first album, ‘Pōneke’, which also features poetry, will be available for purchase on July 5th. 


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