Shovel digging dirt
What shall we bury in 2020? Photo: Pixabay

The Friday Poem: Six Feet For a Single, Eight Feet For a Double by Ruby Solly

A new poem by Kai Tahu writer and musician Ruby Solly.


Six Feet For a Single, Eight Feet For a Double


My father leaves school to dig graves.

The first break is the hardest.

The pressure of foot on steel,

the smell of earth rising.

Koia koia, e tau e koia.

The men sit with packed lunches,

talking about the weather

next to holes they have dug themselves.


When he leaves the job, he keeps his shovel.

Always comes home to dig for the whānau.

Koia, koia, e tau e koia.

He keeps me playing graveside,

tells me off for climbing the pile of earth.

Sends me to find things;

the grave with the lamb,

the grave with the clasped hands.


He says this is how the dead speak.

A lamb for a child,

clasped hands pulling each other up to heaven;

but this is not the only way.

The atmosphere traps us in our bodies,

holds our teeth and tongues in place.


My father says he has no rhythm,

but when he digs you see it in his body,

the flow through the earth into the feet, contracting the calves

through the spine, to chiselled arms,

through ageing hands, into the shovel

and back into the whenua.

Koia, koia, e tau e koia.

With each beat he piles up dirt higher and higher,

making a lofty mountain

for us to bow to.



This poem first appeared in Sport 47: New Zealand New Writing (VUP, 2019), edited by Tayi Tibble.


The Friday Poem is edited by Ashleigh Young. Submissions are welcome at

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