Kia Tonu

by slighte   Feb 19, 2016

Kia Tonu (Be Still)
Or alternatively: You fools thought I was done with earthquake poems

There was another aftershock on Monday. 1.56am and there it was -
a message from my mother. "5.7 we are okay. haven't heard from Jodi
everyone's evacuated."
My sister was under her desk at work with a customer
screaming and holding on to a complete stranger
while five years of PTSD progress came crashing,
crashing down.

A bottle of bourbon hit a woman on her head.
An old lady had a heart attack and was aided by a fifteen year old.
Someone's cat was killed because a statue fell on him.

I didn't sleep that night.

I'm on the other side of the world now but that didn't stop the flashbacks,
the dreams, the fear.
When you live in Christchurch
you put your life on the line every day just to be there.
Everyone I love is there.
Tatou tatou e.

Godley Head just fell right into the ocean. Godley Head,
where I spend summer days, drifting in and out with the wind, the sea;
where I bring friends to show them my favourite spots;
where I feel peace, where I feel music, where I feel home.

Stop taking my happy places from me.

The Cathedral lost more of its walls.
The official Rebuild Christchurch page swore.
The supermarkets and petrol stations had queues out the doors again.
The Student Volunteer Army got their shovels out and began to clean up
the streets covered in liquefaction - silt oozing out of the ground, the earth's
blood, except when it heals it doesn't leave a scar. It's not thick and strong
it's weak and famished and vulnerable and who knows
how many more quakes this city can take.
14,244 - that's how many aftershocks there's been in five years.
Fourteen thousand - and that's not counting the ghost shakes.
The wind that rattles the house, the door slams that make the house shake
because your it has terrible foundations now. The trains, the trucks,
the sirens, the roadworks, the sudden noises that make you remember
the shaking, the shaking, the shaking.
Kia kaha, kia kaha, kia kaha.

How can they call it post-traumatic stress disorder
when the quakes keep coming, you're forced once again
to run for the doorframe, check on your family, look for your cat,
pick the books up off the floor and wonder why you haven't just
resigned to getting a kindle, pick your whole life up off the floor
and put it neatly back onto shelves, knowing full well
they'll just be falling over again soon.

Every heartbeat is just another aftershock. They live with you,
taunting and rattling and moving your life. You are helpless.

There's a moment when you hear the first distant rumble
when your body has to decide whether to run or to stay.
My great grandmother used to shake her fist at the sky during aftershocks.
She's gone now, and so am I. I ran, far across the oceans
where nothing can hurt me. I wonder if she'd be disappointed in me
for leaving. (Kia maia, kia maia, kia maia - I hear her whispering.)
There's not a fault line in the entire continent.
But when I tell people where I'm from,
they don't understand the weight I carry when I say -

Otautahi, Aotearoa.
I'm with you, Christchurch I'm with you,
I wish you aroha, mana, steady hearts when the land won't be still,
be still, be still toku ngakau pauri, be still.

You ask for more unedited rants: I deliver


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Latest Comments

  • 3 years ago

    by hiraeth

    Judging comment:

    I think what drove me to this poem is how brutally honest this piece is, it shows the speaker's struggle with PTSD, and pours it out onto the page, and although I think this poem needs a bit of editing regarding the repetition of words/phrases, I fully understand the reason as to why the author did not edit it, and post it unedited. Beautiful piece that exposed me to the nature of PTSD, something that goes unspoken about.

  • 3 years ago

    by Narph

    Oh I love unedited rant poems. It's the only way to poem, really.

    I'm really curious about all the phrases you didn't gloss, but a part of me enjoys not knowing what everything means. It feels like it's more personal, like I'm an outsider looking in on something. (Which, I am, clearly). But there's something about that foreignizing agent that makes it more powerful. You talk about PTSD, which is such a personal, individualized experience, so keeping that same distance from a reader in a language barrier seems emotionally balancing for this poem.
    Eighth stanza is my favorite. I can hear your voice the most there, the frustration. I think sometimes we're at our clearest mid-rant. I think that's the sweet spot to this poem, but the whole thing is great really. You absolutely clued me in to something I've never had to experience before. Thanks for opening my eyes.

    • 3 years ago

      by slighte

      Thank you!! Really I have never written with Maori before but it is such a beautiful language I thought I would try, and to me it is a much more personal language. 'Kia kaha' is a phrase that was used a lot around NZ at the time of the big quakes it seems almost cliche to say it now. People are always talking about the resilience and strength of Christchurch etc telling us to stay strong and w/e and for some people the quakes bring you closer to each other but to me it seems like they have been so isolating. There is a lot of pressure in NZ to keep a brave and strong face, it is very hard to admit you are not okay, especially in my family. My sister and I both have PTSD and that only distanced us more. I guess that's where the language comes in again, I have always felt much more connected to that language and culture (which is much more open and understanding) than to the one I was really brought up with. I don't know really what I am saying haha sorry. Some day I will truly be able to translate these feelings into some nice words :~)

      Roughly translated:
      Kia tonu - be still
      Tatou tatou e - everybody/all of us
      Kia kaha - be strong
      Kia maia - be brave
      Otautahi, Aotearoa - Christchurch, New Zealand
      Aroha - love
      Mana - strength, particularly in a spiritual way
      Toku ngakau pauri - my (heavy) heart

  • 3 years ago

    by silvershoes

    Wow. Added to my favorites.

    I love the feel of unedited outpourings, but here are a few suggestions anyway:

    "I'm on the other side of the world now but that [hasn't stopped] the flashbacks"
    ^Changed this tiny portion for tense purposes

    "The wind that rattles the house, the door slams that make the house shake
    [because it] has terrible foundations now"
    ^Took out the 'your'

    I counted 5 'justs,' which to me was a little bit distracting, though a couple of them perhaps add more than they take away because they act to hammer in your meaning. Here is one I found distracting:
    "Every heartbeat is [just] another aftershock." Without the 'just,' I think your point is stronger.

    "I'm with you, [Christchurch, I'm] with you,"
    ^Added a comma after Christchurch because I think it reads better (many other parts of the poem that would "normally" require commas are perhaps better without them for poetry's sake).

    Really though, this poem is immensely powerful from beginning to end. Stunning and enrapturing. As a reader, it shook me to the bone. I can almost touch your pain. On that note, please ignore my suggestions if you prefer because your poem is JUST as strong either way :) I rarely comment, and when I do, it's less than 5 sentences. Your poem moved me to do something I usually don't, which is leave a long comment lol.


    P.S. I'm quite positive your great grandmother would be very, very proud of you.


    • 3 years ago

      by slighte

      Thank you so much!! I really want to rework this piece at some point (maybe turn it into a slam piece or something) so your comments really help! You're definitely right about the 'just' thing hahaha. I really just wanted to get something done while I was feeling it which I am trying to get back into the habit of.

      Thank you ahh I really really appreciate it ;-;

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