Matariki & The Love-Torn Sailor by S S Haque

Matariki and the love-torn sailor

Sun rose regal and high in the sphere sky

strong and eager winds

spurred to twirl the heavens.

Aukai’s crew loaded stone and

tools onto his double-hulled wood canoe

this day bodes well for several at sea,

he thought but his body’s memory sunk

into the soft wet warmth of Alaula,

his dawn light, roots and earthly delight


eager sails filled with powerful gusts

Aukai palmed the rock around his neck

remembered what Alaula had said

Ill love you until all the dawns are spent

Ill love you in the dark of the ocean

Id fly with the fishes for you

Aukai rubbed Alaula’s rock

breathed sun and salt

left the solid shore

his hope in nature’s breath


tiger limbs jumped deck

hair caught wild wind and briny grains

on the reckless sea we find our worth

on the tempest air our minds have mirth

barrel-lungs sang until a yellow peach sun

dropped into the ocean

feather clouds gilded gold and red chased it in

ebbing sunrays reached sailors’ skin

etched onyx with lizards and alluring women


the ocean turned bruise black in the shadowed sky

blue gods birthed the creviced moon

this clear sky bodes well for navigating night water,

thought Aukai, stroking Alaula’s rock

in his mind she swam alongside

her breast and belly silver-tinged with lunar rays

the monstrous ocean spiked and fell

moon-touch plated a pale corridor along its black sheet

innocently asking Aukai to tread infinity


the sailors watched the Matariki

dancing around the moon’s white sphere

a troop of angel-women; Aukai and crew close hauled

the wooden whale

let the distant girls guide their path

Matariki pranced

the crew of young firm seamen oozed primal possibilities

(many dips and turns of sky had passed

since they’d been admired this far on the ocean)

they watched, clustered their lustrous heads.


Wai-Ta flashed bigger than the other sisters

like her vanity, drunk on adoration,

she loved a strong sailor’s gaze

Aukai hauled the huge canoe with bear arms

she pleasured herself with thoughts

of his boat-hull chest her luminescent fingers

tracing patterns there

she saw him touch Alaula’s rock

as if a heavenly object, not a cheap token

from a temporal girl, rotting since birth

her reverie crashed


he sang, Alaula, Alaula, Alaula my love


I refuse to be used by male mortals

said Wai-Ta, Aukai will feel the fire of stars

the sisters had to succumb to the girl’s demands

what was a trick or two on a silly sailor

so many would come in many more years

they hatched a plan a devilish dance to steer

the canoe on a different course

they leapt around the gorged moon

tittered, whispered and watched confusion

grasp the canoe


Aukai saw the strange change in his mind’s star map

but, trusting his ancestors, steered on

the ocean became angry and the boat

faced walls of water

could I have made a mistake

the canoe rode wave after wave a flimsy toy

sailors tumbled praying night would end.

men smashed against masts Matariki cavorted

their energy an evil reverie

oblivious to death on board


noon next day the Matariki slept

ocean napped and wind ran

from the starry spell, sailors’ dread roused:

three men lay limp on deck

eyes wide

limbs smashed

their hair shone as if they slept

Aukai cried and cried, salty tears

more countless drops of bitter water

comrades carried comrades to await their kapu coffin

they scarred their skin with burning twigs in memoriam


Aukai gathered his crew, fixed the sails

he could see from where the sun was born

how far they’d come. He grasped Alaula’s rock

the water was still as a picture

no white surf broke the  painted surface

the dreaded doldrums

true horror began

endless days and nights

without a breath or swell

bright blue skies

blackest-hearted silver eyes


sailors’ sinews became thin as ropes

doldrums drew them round and

round the endless ocean membrane

tools and rocks heavy, rations receded

men weak as runts

skeletons on a ghostly craft


sailors went to the bleakest place

hunger of a desperate kind

their bodies yearned to live another day condemned

such is destitution in the living


they pulled their dead men from the hull

axed their limbs

cooked and chomped their thighs

in the silvery light

under the little eyes, the Matariki


Alaula’s rock was heavy around Aukai’s neck

Sailors’ skin slid inside his gut

fat of friends sat on his lip and stuck,

a layer of ghastly goo. The men pushed on

bodies sated

hearts wisps of shadow

they could not speak

they could not weep

rowing their only act

across deserts of boundless floods.


Aukai’s heart a hull, his voice a dead echo

night after night after night

he dreamt of cutting out his tongue

bitter to find himself awake

his tongue in tact

he died a thousand desolate lives each night


after days of doldrums and death

angels in seagull garb

caw cawed over their canoe

driftwood and seaweed made a path to land


even the thought of Alaula’s song

couldn’t right all Aukai’s wrongs

he ripped her rock from his neck

and threw it into the ocean’s wrecks.





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