The Monday Poem: ‘The Dogs of Talimatau’ by Selina Tusitala Marsh

Every day this week the Spinoff Review of Books is publishing a new poem in the build-up to the Phantom Billstickers national poetry day on Friday. Today: ‘The Dogs of Talimatau’ by Selina Tusitala Marsh 

The Dogs of Talimatau

(for Uncle Siva)

My son finds a tail
on the lawn
a paw on the drive
a snapped-off jaw
round the back
by the washing line.

The night before
in heat we’d heard
Max V, Lima and Ono
(knotted fur, nettling bones
fat eyes, fat hunger)
snapping, snarling.

In the morning
we open the back door
parting sooty
veils of flies
to find
a hind leg, half a head
the bloated innards
of another dog.

However that dog died
(probably on the road)
however long ago
(at least two days)
Max V, Lima and Ono
sniffed out its decayed meat
dragged it home
and in pecking order
began to eat.

Lords of Pouliuli.

Hot stench
makes us gag
slamming the door
on the buzzing swarm
we yell for Uncle
who dons his navy
blue work overalls
grabs a spade
Don’t worry, I take it.
Good, bury it deep, we think.

We watch through blinds
as Uncle divides the black sea
scoops up head, carcass, tendon-threaded leg
and standing by the neighbour’s fence
hefts the lot
over.

You know,
in old time
the high chief
they eat
the enemy
Max V, Lima and Ono
they like the high chief.

In Niu Sila
Uncle had one dog for years – Max,
then in Samoa three dogs
all named Max
who died
one by one
mysteriously.

The three preceding Maxes
were poisoned
according to Uncle
staring at the neighbour’s fale.
After Max IV
finished foaming at the mouth, convulsing
Uncle went to think out loud
in front of the neighbour’s house.

You know,
dogs are like the people.
They have thinking like the people
feeling like the people
spirit like the people.
I know God love the dogs.
I know that if this happen again
He will strike down
not the mans who do
this terrible thing
but the grandchildren
of the mans
because that is what the dogs
like to me – grandchildren.
Anyway,
have a good day, a ea?

Max V, Lima and Ono
lie in the shade
of the cookhouse
eating papaya skin, banana peel
soured koko Samoa
left-over two-minute beef noodles
but their favourite
according to Uncle
is the one tala bread
from Farmer Joe’s.
Uncle’s so proud
of the smartness of his dogs
one loaf lasts them
the whole week.


Feature image courtesy of Vai Fahitua.


Tightrope, the new poetry collection by Selina Tusitala Marsh, (Auckland University Press, $27.99) is launched today and available at Unity Books.

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