An entry in the Crocodile Prize
Kina Securities Award for Poetry
See here these loose threads,
See how I hold them in my hands
And how I roll them on my thigh?
Tired and wrinkled they both are,
My hands and thighs,
But still strong enough
For this work and some things.
Your hands are soft and new,
Like your thighs and that's good.
You have far to go young girl,
Many things to learn; I will teach you.
I will make a bilum for you.
A string bilum, like the kind I used to carry kaukau from the garden
But you will not carry kaukau as I did.
Still you can learn to make this billum
So that you too can learn to tell our story to your daughters
And they will grow strong and wise like you.
Then one day when you sit at your hearth
And spin your own string,
With calloused hands like mine,
On weary thighs like mine,
You can remember everything good that has happened.
These thighs your Bubu loved, when we were young.
Yes, he did, many, many nights – that is good too, the best.
And may you find a man to do likewise for you.
These hands raised a family.
Held them, fed them, fought them, taught them and loved them every day.
Until they each went their own way, to make their own families.
So now these hands spin loose threads to roll them into string,
As once they held my children to my bosom.
Now, these wrinkled hands recall to me my children in each thread.
The colours are feelings,
The textures are events,
The lengths of string form chapters of their lives;
As I weave my tale, I see them in my heart.
I smell them each, like smoke from wood that brings tears.
I feel them each, as I feel these threads in my hands grow stronger.
And weaving them, string through string,
Every loop and hitch and tie, binds us together, each to each.
They are our lives, woven together to make a story.
But what will it be for, this story made from strings?
I will take it to my garden – to bring kaikai home;
I will sell it for some money – to buy a new gaten sipet;
I will make it for a new bride – to show my pasin;
I will give it to my daughter – to make her bilas shine;
I will send it to my tambu – whom your Bubu loved best – to show my lewa;
Or maybe I will send it to another land where they do not know this kind of life.
Maybe they don’t know about this brave old woman and her bright young daughter,
And maybe someone else will see my story in this bilum and learn from me too.
Tok Pisin words translated:
Bilum – a bag made of woven string
Kaukau – sweet potato
Bubu – grandfather or elderly person
Kaikai – food
Gaten – garden
Sipet – Spade
Pasin – good manners, proper expected behaviour or conscientious way of acting
Bilas – dress or usually traditional costume and finery
Tambu – in-law
Lewa – heart or love, good feelings and affection