Ngaio Simmons

The Dude

My dad says a famous gunslinger is our ancestor

I still don’t know if it’s true

I once read the last part of a letter he wrote
before his murder

I wouldn’t be able to write you
anything half as eloquent,
paint a world in which this string
of words and em dash are enough
are all

I wish that when you looked up the old west
this was all you found
love sealed in ink sealed in wax
gun parts melted, sweethearts’ promises abound
whites never feeling the urge to build a ship,
one sturdy, able, thick pulse of a thing to withstand the non-Atlantic

Land never having left the hands of those who come from it

Who do I go to with this one?
I grow up with some Annie Oakley crap
and lies about the praries while perched near the Ala Wai
when 4,389 miles away 
half of my heart is missing me
my ancestors have been holding it and waiting
but don’t know where I’ve been stashed away

Can’t call me home with pūtōrino or pūrerehua
when I wouldn’t be able to recognize the sound

Does anyone else know that kind of feeling?
You know the one
where the blood is knotted so close together
it starts fighting itself,
a petition to move across the body, another limb
a different artery,
away from the parts that it finds savage
strayed from God

What a strange life it is—
the offspring of Anglia digging generations deep
into Texas soil,
a meeting house just minutes away
from where Horouta beached in Te Tairāwhiti

Beneficiaries off the butchers for the New World
a people who saw home fires snuffed out in succession
both lines burn hard in me
a mixing
a legacy in two parts
an attempt to reconcile
so as to unearth some sort of beauty


Ngaio Simmons (she/her) is a Māori/pākehā spoken word artist and educator born and raised on the island of Oʻahu on Kānaka Maoli land in the unceded nation of Hawaiʻi. Now permanently residing in her ancestral homeland, Aotearoa, she is still writing about diaspora, identify conflict, and what it means to be Indigenous and queer in a world that repeatedly rejects both. She has been published in Contemporary Verse, Flux Hawaiʻi, Literary Hub, Ora Nui, Hawaiʻi Review, and Bamboo Ridge, among others. Her poem “Whānau” was recently featured in the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series for AAPI month.