They tell you you have full authority
over your lands and treasures
but you have no land and not many treasures
you have a record collection and a wardrobe full
of dresses your grandmother’s would have worn
so every time you wear one you feel
torn between aching and elation.
You put one on and listen to
Lana Del Rey appropriating a speech
from Oprah Winfrey (or a poem
from William Ernest Henley
but probably Oprah Winfrey)
We are the masters of our own fate
We are the captains of our own souls
but you remember that you sold yours
for a cigarette and a blanket or so
you’ve been told.
And they tell you all you have to do
to get ahead is apply yourself
so you apply yourself
like your great-grandmother
who moved to Wellington
in the late fifties
all pretty and pin-curled
powdered and pinafored.
She took up a job
at the cigarette factory in Petone.
Watched white women stuff their purse fat
with stolen cigarettes.
Got fired when she spoke.
Got called blackface and spat at
like she had tar in her lungs
even though she didn’t smoke.
(White lies is defined in the dictionary as
a harmless trivial lie told to prevent upset
caused by the truth)
You think about
that time you watched
White Lies (2013)
and sweated guilt
through your makeup
watching Antonia Prebble
bleach her skin in the bathtub
and kill her child.
The first time you ever lived
alone you bought all your makeup
in the shade classic ivory
in the hopes that your skin might grow
so classically beautiful
so that you might be preserved
and reserved from the hurt and upset
caused by dark-skinned truths.
So you smother yourself
in white lies facemasks and
‘natural’ products. You want to try
a vegan diet no additives or
preservatives you want to eat
fresh watercress and puha
kumara and cabbage
but you have no land
to eat off and only
KFC and McDonalds
seem to grow like weeds
through the cracks of your city
They tell you all you have to do
to get ahead is apply yourself.
So you apply yourself
to universities and jobs
get multiple degrees and
your name changed
to something less offensive like
Charlotte or Ashley.
yourself to men
who have reservations
at glossy fusion-asian restaurants
with former MP’s
discussing the relevance of seats
while they sit comfortably
with their pockets full of allotments
while you feel
when you try to speak
they only laugh
tell you to lighten up
or you must have
as if you don’t understand English
as if it was a mistranslation
they just want you
to be vacant
so you fake it
while you wonder
if Michael Joseph Savage ever cried
because he misheard a typist call him dirty?
Or ever brimmed with pride
because a fellow minister called him noble?
you don’t think so.
So you go home and read an article
your mother has shared on Facebook
about a young artist
who applied himself
and won some money
but in the comments you are reminded
that the already said sorry
already gave some money
and the commenter has his own
sorry we gave you technology
feel free to live in a mud hut!
You think what the fuck’s a mud hut?
and roll your eyes like your ancestors
might have done before battle.
You think about typing
I’m sorry I didn’t realise I had to give up
my iphone and use of roads
to feel aggrieved and think critically
about the past!
Instead you block him
so you will no longer receive
or demands for free
Instead you switch tabs
put on Rihanna
in your grandmother’s dress
and scream sing
didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?
fuck your white horse and your carriage!
make a promise
to no longer receive
the short end of a one-sided marriage.
You think about RuPaul saying
If you don’t love yourself how in the hell
are you going to love anybody else
can I get an amen?
You can get an amene.
you will buy yourself
they have a range of over
forty different shades
and your skin is a taonga.