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No. 56 (September 1966)
– 13 –

PAUA TIDE

John Hovell, a teacher at Coromandel D.H.S., is part-Maori, of mixed Ngapuhi and Ngati Whanaunga extraction.

I remember I remember
At the Paua tide,
How we went down from the road
To the flax bound beach.
The women sat on the high white rocks
Sat and talked together;
And over their knees their dresses stretched
Dark and smooth in the empty air,
Sat on the sun warmed rocks
Watching the men.

Once or twice in the year
Only, does this reluctant tide
Uncover in this way
Her last, secret fringe,
Watches the capture of her store,
The feeling, wrenching, and bearing away;
In this single hour, least hidden
And seldom exposed;
Men grab at her
Making the most of their time.

Reach out you artful fingers
That trouble the edge of the rock,
Like the anemone's soft threads
Feeling, feeling. Can you find
the curved shape, the hiding place
Of the humping prey that clings and waits
Blue in the shade of the boulder?
Wedge the sharp knife. Twist the point.
Lift to the light and the sun
The rivelling mouth.

The imperceptible afternoon slide
Off our backs, as we
Worked the rocks between us;
And behind us the sea weeds closed,
The anemone put out her stamens,
The starfish uncurled, and the water
Stilled again in a perfect pool.
Then suddenly the sea breathed in.
The women, rising, shook out their dresses,
And the men came together up the beach.

I remember I remember
How folds of talk and laughter
Flagged down to the squatting bay.
Look back now, over your shoulder;
Sometimes we sense the sea's keenness
Reckoning each item of depredation.
Only, in the smile of the women is the threat
Forgotten. And the wind
And stone and water sing
An idle warning in the ears,
To homeward company.