Poem — Fiona Kidman

Light gathers

(for Topsy Wi)

I went to your grandmother’s house

on summer mornings when green‑gold pods of light gathered

in the grass and the blue gum trees whistled in tune

to our voices. You sat on the whare step

with your blue‑black

braid hanging straight

to your waist. Life

is real, you said, your cinnamon

eyes gleaming, sometimes hard

and fell silent, neither of us

knowing then the outsiders’ language of pain,

only rage

and the schoolyard fist.

I came one August day

to reclaim you from the past; no victim

here, as, arm in arm, we walked each hospital corridor, you

naming and named as blessed

among your patients,

a woman who had found

her place.

We travelled the winding road

to home, the house

of the beloved ones


mokopuna/Te Kao/land

of forebears, following

red dust to the Cape

where spirits leave, the sea

as dark as irises. Do not speak

yet of death you said,

but when I would

you said, to know God

is to know the mystery

and so we turned

from Reinga to ride

into the falling dark.

I came to you one last time

hurrying empty‑handed from the south

on a morning when high summer spun its shining

net again, stopped at the school

where you’d sat with bended head

sitting beside your coffin

I touched the tumultuous hair

caught in its black and golden

band, placed my fingers

upon your lips. I do not

think you dead, I said.

Aue Topsy, farewell.


Topsy Wi (nee Witihera) was one of five women to whom Palm Prints was dedicated. She nursed at Kaitaia Hospital, and was part of the Piki Te Ora Maori Health Workers Group, until her sudden death on 20 January 1995. Her tangi was at Potahi Marae, Te Kao.

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