I wrote this poem while sitting through a church service in Tonga, at the Siasi Uesiliana Tauataina (Free Wesleyan Church) in Fakakai, Ha’apai.
“Sky-burster” is the literal translation of a word in Tongan (palangi) meaning foreigner – so named because, according to legend, the first foreign visitors to the islands materialized as if from the sky and were initially presumed divine.
Embedded after the poem is a short clip of Wendy and I going to church on the last Sunday before we left to return to United States, a country that feels like a bastion of secularism compared to Tonga. I wasn’t entirely sure that the video camera was appreciated, so for the short bit of the characteristically bombastic sermon that I recorded at the end of the clip, the camera is in my lap.
Sky-bursters, a poem
Under the Southern Cross/Fixed before they imagined a sacrifice upon it/Congregating to observe transplanted traditions/Built over the graves of cannibal ancestors/Passing around the blood and the body/Take and eat, they do in remembrance.
Children cry over symbols of the sacrifice/Men, their fathers, unashamed to weep aloud/ Being dazed from a root they dug from the mountain/ A mystic cone that shakes and spews from somewhere deep, untouched/ Unearthed then crushed and mixed with water/ Take and drink before the drinking of the blood.
The narcotic grog contents peace passed understanding/ The ranting channeler of a top-hatted fiery fisher-of-men/Who cast in deep waters long ago beneath the Southern Cross/ And hauled up a prodigious load of souls/ Who have never yet been conformed into fishes out of water.
And the conjured sky-burster mixes with the unintended conjuring of others/ Native species long assumed buried with the cannibals:/ The spirit shark devours the secret breakers of taboos and 10 Commandments/ Bush devils haunt around gaudy quilt-strewn mounds/ Flying foxes, the spirits whose names have been forgotten/ An ancient throb seeps from holy liturgy/ And women rise from timber pews to flaunt a carnal plenty and raw nature.
Between the rote liturgies and shallow legacies pries the old, proud cannibal/ Who gnawed the energy of the spirits of the enemy/ And did this in remembrance under the Southern Cross/ Which is a bit crooked after all/ And might be and always have been/ An X that marks the spot in the sky/ From which old spirits burst again upon the scene.