By Deryn Pittar
Note: The Battle of Gate Pa on 29th April, 1864.
‘Mine will be the days, mine the nights, mine all the creeks, mine the hills, mine the plains–all are mine. I am free to act in or on them. This is a warning to you . . . desist . . . ”
—Quote attributed to Rawiri Kingi Tuaia (Rawiri Puhirake)
In the pa, weary from digging, Maori crouch
in dark dusty tunnels.
The musk of fear and fury drifts
among bodies wedged in trenches,
against smooth earthen walls.
Within the palisades, beneath well-trodden ground,
under entrances hidden by hatches of bracken
warriors rest, as the cannonballs drop.
Wooden struts shudder, refusing to give.
The bombardment stops and silence settles.
Stray sunlight speckles the tunnel walls,
sweat glistens on tense muscles as warriors
await the sound of the charge.
The enemy’s stampede shakes soil
onto black hair and brown faces.
Resisting the urge to emerge and haka, they wait . . .
breathe deeply, murmur prayers,
stroke gun barrels.
Through breached fences soldiers flow.
Expecting bodies they find level bare ground.
Retreat blocked by following troops,
corralled like sheep for slaughter,
penned by palisades,
the empty pa mocks them.
Warriors erupt from hidden trenches,
their patience rewarded.
Bullets exchange resting places ‘til darkness falls.
The stench of gunpowder and death
silent companions in the long night.
Morning brings another charge,
of men now wise to tunnels and traps.
The empty pa salutes their leveled rifles.
No warriors spring from the earth.
They have departed with breaking dawn as witness.
Sunlight shines on yesterday’s folly,
warms the dead and bounces
from buckles, guns and cannons.
Blood and iron enrich the earth
but this time Maori have prevailed.
Deryn Pittar writes fiction and poetry. She belongs to writing and poetry groups and endeavours to put the principles of poetry into her fiction (less is more). You can read her short fiction pieces in her newsletter: iwriteuread.substack.com.