Review — Tidelines, by Kiri Piahana-Wong

Reviewed by Hebe Kearney

Tidelines interweaves the poet's own life with the tragic story of Hinerangi, who lived at Karekare in the distant past. These are poems of Auckland's west coast, reflecting the steady rhythms of daily existence, alongside grief, mental unwellness, disintegration and resolution.

To read Tidelines by Kiri Piahana-Wong is like taking a bite of salt water. It has the brevity of a mouthful of surf along with the sting. The collection is set against Tāmaki’s West Coast, with the first person narrator switching between the personal and the voice of the mythic figure of Hinerangi. In 40 short pages, Piahana-Wong manages to deftly explore the resonance between the internal human and external natural worlds.

The collection deals with suffering and healing, and presents bodily connection to the natural world as vital for life. In ‘Piha’, the rain ‘runs down my body and pools / in my centre… And I’m part of nature too’ (p.16), while in ‘Falling’ the narrator states: ‘I am only half here… I am my worst self’ (p.26) and nature is just a wintry garden out the window. The narrator is at their apex when in touch with nature, and at their nadir when cut off from it.

A cautious hope runs through the collection. It has moments of darkness and desperation, but it also strengthens lifelines to the things that keep us here. In ‘The day I died’ no one actually dies, because the narrator’s tūpuna arrive, and with a gust of wind blow her ‘back / from the edge of the cliff / and away, until the forest / swallow[s] it from sight.’ (p.29). This speaks to how our history, our loved ones, and the inexhaustible world around us can work together to connect us to life, or at least obscure the sometimes tempting possibility of leaving it.

By the end of the collection, the narrator can ‘even catch myself / on the edge of song.’ (p.37). This book’s song is a privilege to hear.

Poem ‘Piha’ demonstrates how being connected to the natural world is a lifeline.


There is a small blue pot, filled with daisies
picked from the roadside, sitting on the
windowsill, framed by plywood, glass,
the dim, warm, pre-cyclone light
– it is mid afternoon.

There are grapes, not yet ripped, hanging
on a trellis above me, the trellis covered in
clear plastic, giving the illusion of open
space, protecting me from the rain.
Behind me, pōhutukawa are flowering,
our brilliant red Christmas trees.

Because, yes, it is Christmas,
it is Christmas Eve, and it is where
I start to lose it, I stop looking and
start listening, I’m listening to you
drumming, Ahurewa singing, and
while I want to describe the precise
nature of the sound, what I can hear,
all I am thinking is

– nobody plays the drums like you do

and then I’m lost, you see,
I want to be lost and I am lost
and I’m gone.

Sometime later I come back to myself
to the sound of flowers. I am in a high
place, close to the sky.

There are light green leaves above me,
as perfect as stencils. There is a creeper
growing, wrapping itself tenaciously
around the trunk, the limbs, of a pūriri
tree. I think the vine is winning, it is
smothering the tree, but then I see no,
the tree is still strong, although part of it 
looks dead, and then I wonder if nature
even thinks like that.

And I’m part of nature too, never more so
than now, this day, this pre-cyclonic post-
apocalypse-that-never-came rainy early-
summer Christmas Eve, this early evening/afternoon.

There is more rain falling now..

It runs in rivulets from the top of your head
down the bridge of your nose
onto my half-open mouth, running over
my lips, and it runs over my chin and
it runs down my body and pools
in my centre, and then as I turn over to
press my face, my warm, bare face, against the 
grass, dying leaves, the earth, I feel it
– the sky’s water: all the wondrous light
weeping joyous tears of the sky god,
Ranginui, running down my side and
into the earth, Papatūānuku, and then
settling there.

Reviewed by Hebe Kearney