on Simone Kaho’s work in Takahē 95

I thought about doing an end-of-year list of poems I loved from 2019 then got a bit overwhelmed by how much good stuff there is [however I did talk about some poems I really loved from this year on this poetry shelf post, here] so I’m sticking to one poem (this might be the start of something new, strange ramblings in response to poems I love – I am also tentatively still continuing my annotations of my book but not trying to force anything at the moment)

The poem I wanted to look at doesn’t have a name and I think is an excerpt from a longer work that might see the light of day in the future! But it’s a newish poem from the brilliant Simone Kaho.

CW for rape, self-harm, violence. Link to an excerpt of it here.

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It is a poem about trauma about living with trauma about how it does and doesn’t define the life that is lead after. The poem starts both framed by rape and also not.

“If we work backwards from the rape she has thirteen thousand five hundred and fourteen steps to take. But the rape is not the end so let’s start from now.”

It takes place in the now but it is a now that the past and future leak into – I am reminded that the flow of time as linear is a colonial construction. There is the need for closure that interest in a certain form of utu. The narrator claims that she would have killed the person who had done this to her;

“…she’d have shot him if she’d had a gun. Make his face swallow itself, a close-up of a drop of water hitting a larger body of water, like in nature documentaries.”

Make his face swallow itself. The hunger the calm the image haunts me. The sense of justice enclosed in this imagining of violence. The shift to talk of nature documentaries paints this as a restoration of balance, it is an appropriate response to rape.

But the poem is always moving, an automatic sense to it, with none of the flagging blubber of being content to just play, it streams from one idea to the next, in such a way you’re never quite sure how you got there. Like time I guess. The intersection of rot and patriarchy, the whole system just dragging people downwards. Where men are capable of great empathy but also massive cruelty where love is code for objectification and control. This poem has the narrator contending with experiences, many and varied, with men in her life that seek to control or hurt women. These cis men through a lack of self-awareness, that unaware stewing in the toxic patriarchal sludge of their socialising, they are inclined to view the use and abuse of women as natural. It’s that drop of water hitting a larger body of water. What is so wrong with that? What else are women and gender minorities supposed expect from cis men?

“M o o o o        b a a a a        o i n k” – the animal. The man as animal. As beast. As violent threat. As designed by god “in God’s image”. Ground down to onomatopoeia, to the fungal growths in the compost bin. “It smells fermented, like a lover.” The narrator asks if this is how god feels?

This is the part of the poem that blows me open. That takes the whole world and scallops me clean. That registers with such power. This is a world of work that swings through my head has swung through my head since the day I read it.

Then there is the part about self-harm. I have struggled with this in the past and cutting is still one of the hardest things for me to read about. I feel it on my body when I read these words, the denial of cutting the I don’t hurt myself but I do. That pretense to wholeness when it’s really a body wrapped around a hole, a bandage wrapped around a bloody fist. It punches whole through me. I am made corpse-like by this poem, I am reduced to my bones by this poem, I am made into words. My heart beats against the cage of itself.

The poem ends (or at least stops for now)  considering the heart – this shared moment between the narrator and her father, this looking back to the past or this acknowledgement of the present. There is a heart beating inside a box. It thumps against the sides. The narrator sees her own heart and thinks her father sees his there in the box, too. But we don’t know. The narrator isn’t sure if that moment was a shared one. It leaves the reader tittering; the door is opened a crack and you can almost see the face almost read the movements of the hand or the hope or… and then it’s over or it’s never really over. 

I can’t speak to the trauma in this work, not in any real or substantive way but this poem speaks to me. I feel it start to charge like it could collapse whole systems I feel it reveal the fractures, the shatter-points in patriarchy, through light, light glinting off the edge of the pounamu mere or the knife or the rock or the patu made of bone. 

And this feeling I get from the poem says something really important it says despite the mess left inside ourselves we can cut through anything.


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