then the wind came by Iona Winter
Wellington: Steele Roberts (2019). RRP: $20.00
Reviewed by Sandra Arnold
Iona Winter’s stories, flash fiction and poetry have been widely published in New Zealand and internationally. Her first collection then the wind came brings these together along with new work. There are four sections under the headings of Whenua/Earth, Angi/Air, Ahi/Fire, and Wai/Water, each section containing seven pieces. A glossary at the back gives the English translation for Māori words, although the meaning of these words can mostly be deduced from context.
The author worked for twenty-five years as a psychotherapist, so her experience in dealing with human trauma has undoubtedly contributed to her writing. Many of the stories focus on abuse, violence, grief, and family tensions. Flash fiction works well here as a vehicle for conveying the unspeakable without labouring the point. In ‘Succulence‘, for example, we see the narrator wandering in her mother’s garden after her funeral, filling her pockets with plums until this triggers a thirty-year-old memory of the long-dead man next door:
The plum tree is on Mum’s side of the boundary. I still dread it. My sister and I avoid the locked-away memories too.
‘Change the subject, all right?’ she says.
It seems such a waste, all the rotten fruit on the ground. At least the birds can pluck and gorge themselves without trepidation.
The wind picks up and runs welts of goose bumps along my torso.
‘Fuck you!’ I yell, turning out my pockets.
‘The lake’ is the longest story in the collection. It is narrated by three family members, a mother, brother and daughter. The daughter, Kahu, flies back to New Zealand after being raped and cannot speak to her mother about what happened. Her uncle takes her out on the lake to ‘the resting place of tupuna, our old people.’ And there, in the water they carry out a healing ritual. The story ends with the mother, Mereana, standing in the lake, years before, pregnant with Kahu. She has a vision of what is to come.
I saw a vision of myself lying on the pebbles below, looking up at the sun filtering through the water.
Then the face changed to a tupuna I’ve seen in a photo. Her eyes looked the same as mine and those of this child who will be born without her papa.
I continued to stare and her skin darkened and the white hair was twisted into place with a wooden comb. I touched the etchings tattooed on her chin, grooves chiselled a long time ago – her face, not mine. I sensed the moko in its creation and heard the tap of stone on stone. I felt the thump of every incision rattle her bones, my bones and this child’s bones.
I sensed the pain she endured. Pain akin to mine. A pain this child will endure.
There are also poems celebrating life and nature as in ‘Tendril’:
I dream of subtle touch
silken-tendril-cobwebs where morning dew clings
ahead of its release earthwards
your facial contour as familiar as lines on my palm
this skin remembers the pulse of you beneath it
silken-tendril-cobwebs where morning dew clings.
then the wind came is a challenging collection, dealing as it does with some of the most difficult situations people can face. The writing is searing in places, but ultimately life affirming as summed up in the first poem, ‘Intuit’:
sense comfort in ancestral knowledge
and trust in yourself always.
Sandra Arnold lives in Canterbury. Her two most recent books, Ash (Mākaro Press, NZ) and Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK) are forthcoming in 2019. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia.