haibun
A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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March 2006, vol 2 no 1

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Patricia Prime

Tangi for Nate - Age 3

summer rain
beneath a blue tarpaulin
our tears

"Wait here five minutes," the tupuna says, "then we'll call you on." He signals for us to wait out of the rain. The powhiri begins. A bunch of leaves is laid at our feet as a mark of respect and welcome. I pick them up.

We leave our shoes on the porch and cross the doorstep. In the darkened room mattresses lie on the floor and the tiny white coffin, draped with the child's new clothing and toys, sits in the middle. Grandmother, mother, aunts, cousins and sisters rest on the mattresses, while the men, some carrying guitars, stand around the room.

A karakia sounds round the room and the tupuna asks us to sit down while he makes a speech in Maori. He follows with a translation and asks us if we would like to reply. As the little boy's kindergarten teachers for three months of his brief life, we make an effort to say something about Nate's great qualities: his laugh, his smile, the way he was always first (and last) with his kai. An uncle brandishes his guitar and begins a song that he says is for all tamariki. We follow with a song about love we've taught the kindy children, "Te Aroha."

Afterwards we move to the casket. Nate wears his beloved blue hat and a pair of Batman pyjamas. His small cousin pokes him with a finger, "Wake up, bro. Wake up. You've been sleeping too long!" Two young girls are busy weaving friendship bracelets and Nate's mother gently smoothes her son's face with cold cream.

at the foot
of the child's casket
his Christmas presents

The family gather for one final song and then we make our farewells. The horizon's semi-precious, the rain is past, the children smile and wait to see us off. "Haere ra!" they call. "Thank you for coming."

on the porch
my shoes full
of hail stones


Tangi: lamentation

Tupuna: grandparent

Powhiri: welcome

Karakia: lament

Kai: food

Tamariki: children

Aroha: love

Haere ra: farewell

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