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.

History lesson

Believe me when I tell you
With no introduction,
In spite of its beauty
The planet is an urupā.

Don’t be dismayed.
Out of its concrete graves
Children grow like grass
Perpetuating us.

No language, certainly not
Yours or mine, can tell them
Anything not entered
Already in their genes.

If we are not too clever
Some of us might help
Some of them access
The programme, nothing more.

All of us straddle
Fault lines of meaning
Waiting for the Big One
To open them up.

Meanwhile observe these dancers,
How perfectly and full of grace
They repeat themselves.
Shiva knew a thing or two

About Being. He could be
My ancestor’s cousin
And yours. We share the same

Same geology too.
What is more, there is nothing
That has not been before,
The new repeats the old.

We are simply variations
On original themes.
Why are you dismayed?
We carry history in our genes

Like messages in bottles.
Surely that is enough.
Don’t tell me you believe,
You want, more than this.

What, in God’s name, what?