He wāhine, he whenua, ka ngaro te tangata.
(Without women and without land, humanity is lost.) – Maori proverb
It is almost evening. Wind-woven birds call
over the fields, the sky turns a gentle grey--
Mother’s voice a low melody, her footfall
on the chalky steps speaks of the fleeting day…
Sad and barefaced in the moonlight you stand
like the flame-haired tree seen through our window.
Sister, the same hand that last clutched your hand
gave me this letter to place under your pillow.
Woman-Wife-Warrior: stark and unknowing,
my hands still work without rest. All winter long
each fugitive day sees my belly growing.
Here I am planted, here I become strong.
Your tiny hand opens, receives the bright world
of an unknowable future. The earth formed you
my Daughter, and heaven calls you. Our tears unfold
life-breath, blood-pulse, soul-cry, all things made new.
This pantun (a traditional Malay poetic form, originally oral) is respectfully dedicated to the women artists of the Mata Aho Collective, Aotearoa. It is a meditation on the installation art work Kaokao #1. The title of the pantun is a portmanteau of the Maori word tangata and the Malay word tangan, meaning “hand”.