This is a collection of writing that posits the very real paradox of the precarious and staunch (female) body as lived and encountered within society, front and centre. It looks at the ways in which certain life structures draw out or exaggerate the relationship between these forces—the weak, the strong. The collection explicitly folds out from a selection of poems by J. C. Sturm, one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most significant Māori women writers of the twentieth century. Sturm’s poetry is placed in relation to new writing by five women working today: Ruth Buchanan, Anna Gritz, Sarah Hopkinson, Hanahiva Rose, and Sriwhana Spong.

Under threat
for Janet

I do not remember the purpose
Of your call, only you telling me
So lightly, almost gaily
The last stroke of luck
Could fall any time.
Whether good luck or bad —
Depending on how it strikes you —
Will make no difference,
All interpretations, options
Schedules being withdrawn
On the last page, except acceptance.

There was, in the changing
Timbre of your voice, a curious
Excitement, an excited curiosity
As though you had already joined
The queue before the exit sign,
Poised to look back one last time
With raised hand, a traveller’s
Flashing smile, before shuffling
Through the last gate
Eager to learn a new geography
Dwell in a different dimension.

Does it matter any more
How or what words
Are coupled on a page
Now that the warning has come?
Not that it tells us anything new.
We are born to know,
Can never forget or ignore,
All stories have the same ending
Programmed unalterable
Undeniable, inevitable
And nothing we ever say or do
Think or feel, will make it otherwise.

Last year you sent me a photo
Of your blossom tree in bloom.
This, you wrote on the back,
Is a poem.
May your next spring be
A revelation like the first,
As poignant as the last.
As for me —
Swamped by this wave of panic —
I must learn to swim
A stronger stroke.
Better still,
Learn to walk on water,
Or stay here, clinging
To my upturned boat,
Whimpering and muttering to myself.