People of Letters

Response Gallery

Jay  Bernard

White Jelly

After the life mask of Maori chief Taupua Te Whanoa

Jay Bernard

Replica of a life mask depicting the face of the Māori chief Tapua Te Whanoa of the Ngāti Whakaue Hapū of the Rotorua region.
(Image not available without consent from the Iwi tribe)

Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford
Accession number: 1943.11.2

I went in at night
took the museum from its glass case
opened its toy roof

there was even a small boat
with my breath in its yellowed sail
every miniature adze and kiwi feather
every moving part

starting at the stairs
I pour liquid plastic on the floor
until it meets the waist of each glass case
then the neck and the eyes
then hovers at the wall’s lip

How many lifetimes passed?
How many tiny scholars did I turn away?

I turned the museum over and tapped its bottom
with the heel of my hand and out fell
a many-lateral shape

stamped with the Celtic rings in the floor
Totem holes and spear holes in this fat churchlike block

I slice the blind dough down its middle

where there were glass cases
there is empty space
and each narrow passage
now a block of white jelly

I want to make a metaphor of this, but how?

Vitrine by vitrine
gash by ledge and step

And did the voices cry out
Where did you put the adze and kiwi feather?
Where did you put the ngutu ta mono?
Where did you put the kete putawa?

Where there were feathers
now you must climb the walls
to find the holes to remember the feathers