Maureen Eppstein

Ambivalent Exile

First published in:
Kalliope Vol. XIII No. 2 (1991)



New Zealand was never really my country.
Returning, my roots reach down
and strike hard rock,
the old ambivalence.

Later generations
may forget we took the land by force,
or remember so did those who came before us.
But for now,
the heroes in our history have Maori names.

How long
before we forget the lost comforts of home
In the cold of winter the Maoris remember Hawaiki.
So too my grandparents cleared this
black and brooding bush
and planted English oaks.

How long to find a faith to fit the land
This is the bedrock, hard and sharp
as obsidian.
Our ancient metaphor of seasonal rebirth
is out of phase.
The names of local deities
fall strangely to our ears.
Here is no nourishment.


First published in:
Calapooya Collage 14 (1990)




When I need to feel the bones of
the great fish hooked by
the jawbone of Maui's grandmother
I wear my heitiki around my neck
it is carved of bone
human and yet not human
its strangeness reaches down through
mountains       forests       lakes
to where the power is
my strength       my memory


First published in:
Calapooya Collage 14 (1990)




I am forgetting the land of my birth
as slowly I
take on the coloration
of this country. It hurts
this sense of unfamiliarity
with ways I once
knew well. What happens to memory
in the changing time?

We immigrants lie locked
in tightly-wound cocoons.
When the pain subsides
we will emerge


First published in:
Crazyquilt (1990)




(Bay of Plenty, New Zealand)

I had forgotten the flowers,
how their colors sing:
scarlet cannas like flame in the hedgerows,
mounds of blue hydrangea burning under the trees,
white heads of Queen Anne's lace,
orange montbretia dancing down the road
(escape! escape!),
how vines and bushes tangle and spread
around the houses.

Immigrants all, settling their roots
in a new country.
A good life.   Plenty of rain,
and the air so soft and warm.


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Updated: March 25, 1998