Albert Wendt is one of the most magic people I know. Like that, immediately you meet him. Immediately your eyes meet his unclouded, intelligent gaze; immediately you hear his slow-cadenced, musical voice, at once amused and profound.
The award is for fiction so I've been looking through a few of his novels and short-story collections I've grabbed off the library shelves to see if I could find a passage I could excerpt here, and I can't! They are just not excerptable. They come on like those long Pacific swells, unassumingly, the narrative gathering strength almost stealthily until it carries you -- by now weightless -- with it on its journey.
In other words, if you want to enjoy reading say, Sons for the return home, one of the books I'm looking at, I think you need to go for the whole ride.
So I've opted instead for my favourite poem from Albert Wendt's latest book of poetry, From Mānoa to a Ponsonby garden.
We are programmed with used-by dates but so far
I've outlived mine using pills and other remedies
But when the time comes I want it to be a summer morning
of cool temperatures and mellow sighs
of the sun enjoying the full spread of Ponsonby
oblivious to how I am snaring and using it
to illuminate this poem's way towards
understanding and completing itself
of the smell of toast and hot coffee nosing its way down O'Neill Street
without knowing it is entering my house at number 63
and meeting the well-tended memories that people
wall floor carpet and hold up the ceilings
of the full horde of hungry sparrows in my back yard feasting
as usual on the bread I tossed out the previous night
of my children and mokopuna snug in their alofa for one another
and the other people I love will forgive me for leaving
a slow unassuming morning that will swing open --
it won't know it is a door -- and I'll slip through it
into the endless summer light that won't know I'm leaving
the body that is unaware it is bone and pain
to be part of that which connects all things to all things
and right back again to the dark and the first spark
that set me alight and this poem that is struggling to become
that morning of my going away
to be all that was now and will be
in the stretch of Tagaloaalagi's breath
Fa'afetai lava Al! For the talent and the alofa you have shared with us all.
Here is Albert Wendt reading a poem from the anthology Mauri Ola, which he co-edited with his wife Reina and Robert Sullivan, taped at a Central City Library Pasifika celebration.