I dig into the dirt to plant seedlings, sweet peas
imagining them winding their tendrils round stakes
pulling themselves up to the sun before bursting into flower
my fingers hold the earth aside, then press it down to secure a fragile stem
as I start to make another hollow
I push my hands deep into the earth
I am searching for the way back into my past
I am searching for some evidence of belonging
something that will connect me
I pull my hands from the dirt
and all I can see is longing
this land is rich in story
every mountain, tree and bird has name and meaning and myth
but do the stories of this land belong to me?
my ancestors were far, far away when first these tales were told
and now, do the voices of this land speak to me?
and if they do, can I claim them as my own?
born here, four generations or more, but far from the source
disconnected by time and distance, origins lost
those who chose to leave their homes to start again so far away
some thrived, some were broken
I’ve had to learn the names of my family and my birthplace
instead of breathing them in as a babe
the stories of my people didn’t come to me first hand
I’ve never heard them spoken
I can only read the sleeping words
and imagine them rising from the page
there seems no other choice than that I must become my own myth
send my roots down deep into this rich soil
until I feel connected
I would become green-fingered from the feet up
to become a root-knower, stem-lifter, seed-gatherer
I would understand the alchemy of gold to green
but for now
I am become
the memory of the fair-haired child, lost and fearful,
except when barefoot, running wild in her imagination
I am become the troubled woman, seeking security, trying to refuse the easy road
the intentional woman, trusting instincts, curious and creative
who discovered she needed to birth herself
time-shifting to lift and shelter the memory-child,
who tells herself stories,
writes herself into the past and leaves the door open to the future
I listen to birds
and watch the dance of trees
I learn the language of dreams
I have no myths but the ones I tell myself
I dig into the dirt
to plant new life in the soil
I pull my hands from the earth
and now all I can see are stars and flowers
It’s taken a month to write this – one of those pieces that demanded to be finished before I could move on to something new.
I’d been thinking about those whose forebears moved to another country, and their descendants. There can be feelings of disconnection from the ancestral country, questions which aren’t answered by knowledge of the place of birth. This is the case for me.
I’m aware of some of the Māori history and myth of Aotearoa New Zealand, but not being Māori, I wonder if those stories can also be mine.
And yet, I was born here, I have no-where else. My people came from Scotland, Ireland, and England, and while some of the myths and histories of these places resonate with me, I can’t quite own them. I don’t belong there – my southern Pacific upbringing in this nation has shaped me into a very different creature. I’m not British, I’m not European (although I understand this is used to define origins/ethnicity), and I can’t quite claim the stories of those countries as my own, not in any living, contemporary sense.
I have the added difficulty of a disrupted family history. So this all starts to sound like a question of identity. The stories our ancestors tell help to form our sense of self and belonging. As a Pākehā New Zealander, what are my stories, my mythic tales to explain my place in the world? I want myths that belong to me, that are born of this land.
The late Michael King wrote about Pākehā identity and culture, and this could be the time for me to read his work on this. Strange that I’ve never explored it before now.