Poem: hands on stomach lizard body

Poet essa may ranapiri responds to three pou kātua in our collection.

From left to right:

Pou (carved post), 1750-1850, New Zealand, maker unknown. Te Papa (ME003144/1)
Pou kātua (stockade post figure), 1800s, New Zealand, maker unknown. Te Papa (ME013087)
Pou kātua (stockade post figure), 1800s, New Zealand, maker unknown. Te Papa (ME013088)

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hands on stomach lizard body / tattooed face, hollow head, plain wood / carved wooden figure of palisade type, dark in colour, part of figure’s left arm broken away

Tukua mai he kapunga oneone ki ahau hei tangi māku.

there is nothing but a cut               or there is no speaking of the
nothing that is cut into                    there is nothing corrective about
this approach                                      to cutting off

their gaps are still visible              there is nothing so open as a wound
do they feel it                                    do you feel it in different ways
vibrate through you                            and out

is there a ghost limb                           does it make fun of your person
ness that they would                           hide a part of you with violence
a black shroud that                             covers as it takes?

i once wrote a poem                          about cutting my dick off at
the base                                               looked up images of castration
on google was stunned                      by the tearing and the pull

like rubber stretched pink              none of you would have had the
issue of meat                                     wood cracks and falls away
did that save you                                from some of the pain?

i don’t know when it was                    that i decided that having a penis
made me more of a woman                          than not
was it due to twitter memes                  that celebrated the girldick?

my favourite one that                            fits in this genre of joke
is a tiktok from this trans woman                  which imagines her
responding to the age-old question            of

are you getting the surgery                          have you had the surgery
and she nods                                          and smiles and says of course
i’ve had the surgery                                   a glint in her eyes

now i’ve got two                                 dicks!  two dick trans woman
coming through!                                  the video plays on loop
and i laugh every                                  time

i wonder what cis                                 people think of that
i wonder what                                   you
think of that                               if you think of it at all

we all know what they                saw when they took them
they saw your bodies as             pornographic as an affront
to assimilation                              and perhaps just perhaps dick envy

they came from a place          that says bodies are bad
so it’s no surprise that              all they could manage
with such limited language             was the cut

even so recent as the chain           saw that grumbling
engine puts things into parts          makes things stir
and separate                                 i don’t believe

any god would care so much          unless they had gotten
lost down some alt-right rabbit          hole some conservative forum
or just really hated                           what they’d come up with

but enough about them                  they’ve already taken up too
much space                                     i watch the way in which
the lizard on your chest                   rests in your arms

a quiet friend                                   i don’t quite know what
they’re doing there                           their tail makes a groove
into your navel                                 just a little dip

where does one start                           and the other end?
it’s written that you were                   guardians watched
from walls around our                          homes stretching backwards

into the past                                 how do you feel about how
far you’ve come?                              what stories carved into you
twist the most when                      the seasons change

everything about the                   body begins in my stomach
the second brain humming              there
i’m sure it’s the same for                      you

i often miss the soil                         lying back on carpet or in duvet
do you miss being planted                    in our mother                             
do you miss the whispering                 narratives of bugs

and insects moving                          through the dirt
the shimmering recollection                of so many legs
brushing tines                                     through roots

i think of sitting outside                       in the grass with my typewriter
feigning some form of comfort               while things i can’t see
take a piece out of me                           is food always for the best?

is this a funny question                      for you
have you ever experienced                    taste?
would you even be the                       correct person to ask?

do you remember the tree                     or trees you were made from
did they give you a latinate name to         write down
on more of your friends                       does paper look like

a dead body to you?                        there are so many ways in which
these actions might be clueless                 writing your pain up
in these strange and colonial                letters

what rushed through your                 erections if it wasn’t blood?
i can feel mine now                           trying to stand in too tight
underwear                                  i can feel what it’s asking of me

what did it ask of you                 what power did it bestow
this small embarrassing                     organ
a symbol of life more than                 the violence that enshrouds it

i can see the gaps in                           you open for breath
as my mouth opens                         to say how much i wish
things had happened                     differently

and when i say there is nothing            but a cut
what i mean is there is everything              around it
and so much space for us                         to give to each other

essa may ranapiri / tainui / tararua / maungatautari / waikato / guinnich / highgate / thames / takataapui dirt / dust / whenua / there is water moving through bones / there are birds nesting in the cavities

Download a PDF of essa may ranapiri – ‘hands on lizard body’ (410.28 KB)