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For a cigarette and a blanket

Tuesday 6th February 2018

Illustration: Te Hana Goodyer

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)

on DVD

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

and cold

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.

 

You apply

your makeup

you apply

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

cheap

when you try to speak

they only laugh

and wink

tell you to lighten up

or you must have

“misunderstood”

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

apology

 

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

his messages

or demands for free

emotional labour.

 

Instead you switch tabs

put on Rihanna

and dance

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?

 

Yes RuPaul

You can get an amene.

 

Tomorrow

you will buy yourself

Fenty beauty

they have a range of over

forty different shades

and your skin is a taonga.

 



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“Every discussion of vaping should include a comparison with smoking. ” — Altaf


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Tayi is a writer from Wellington (Te Whanau a Apanui/Ngati Porou). In 2017 she completed a Masters degree in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, where she was the recipient of the Adam Foundation Prize. Her work has preciously been published in Landfall, The Spinoff and Poetry Magazine.
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