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Manoa 17.2 (2006) 32-35

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from Hymns to My Island


One day a gardener decided to graft
his guava tree onto an apple branch.

What do you think resulted
from this brilliant experiment?
A fruit that was half-fig, half-grape,
With neither taste nor scent.
The scientist became furious.

Left alone, the apple tree would have produced
A ripe red fruit: crunchy, juicy.
The guava—you know it well—
One eats it morning and night.
In other words: two delicious fruits.

Like you, I would like to know
The answer to this riddle.
But don't worry.
It's only a game. [End Page 32]


On your grave, allow a friend to place
This modest poem of tangled flowers.
You see, this time I didn't cry.
These few tears are just a bit of dew.

Evening falls, the time you liked best
To dance to the sound of the drums and vivo.
Your joy, so grand, made your skirt fly
So that even God laughed.

There, so much happiness could only trouble
Those men who came from elsewhere, certain of their desires.
The joyous people, in turn, must suffer.
Isn't happiness the greatest sin?

In an era when the body was sinful,
When only the Word expressed thought,
What could dancing be if not a penance?
He might fall! He fell, just as they said he would.

Today, young Tahitians remember
That once a man elected to die
In order to save the dance that alone could nourish
Our generous souls and quench our spiritual thirst.

Those sad people from the past are now less sad,
Having themselves discovered the soul's language.
Their hearts murmur, "It is time to be free of blame—
Ta'aroari'i, you did not die for nothing!" [End Page 33] [Begin Page 35]


Who are you, man who says nothing,
Whom I meet each day on the road?

Gazing out at the lagoon, you taste morning's freshness
While I scramble about like a restless child.
Calmly, you prepare yourself for the day's work—always serene,
While I'm as jumpy as a puppet on strings.

I walk, run, and fly, hardly human anymore.
I'm rich, yet everything seems shabby to me.
At night, exhausted, I drink myself stupid.
I swear, once and for all, to put an end to it.

It's like I'm being churned in a breadmaker,
But I know I wasn't born this way.
Like you, I want to taste the morning air.
Won't you tell me the secret of your fortunate life?

Tahitian, I saw you begin to speak
While I was talking, I saw you make up your mind.
For two centuries we've been on parallel paths.
Tell me quickly, while I gather up the things I've stolen.

Too late! They're waiting for me. You'll have to tell me tomorrow...
Translations from French by Nola Accili
Louise Peltzer was born in 1946 on Huahine. The author of many books, she is a scholar, historian, novelist, poet, and renowned authority on the Tahitian language. She received a doctorate in linguistics from the Sorbonne in 1986. In 1985, she published a book of legends, Légendes tahitiennes, in Paris, and a book of poetry, Pehepehe: Te Hia'ai-oa, in Pape'ete. Her other books include Lettre à Poutaveri and Hymnes à mon île, both published in 1995. She was Minister of Culture in the territorial government of French Polynesia and is now the president of the Université de la Polynésie Française and an active member of l'Académie Tahitienne/Te Fare Vāna'a, whose goal is to preserve and conserve the ancestral language.
Nola Accili teaches French at the University College of the Fraser Valley in Canada. Recently, she appeared in the anthology Down in the Valley and the journals Room of One's Own and Jones Av.