GAUGUIN IN THE SOUTH SEAS by Barry Tebb
They have my own fear of the dark,
Tupapau - spirits of the dead they call it;
Returning late with oil I found fear of it
Had spread my vabine naked on the bed.
Manao-Taipapau means ‘she thinks of the spectre’
Or ‘the spectre is thinking of her’, either way
She is afraid; I marvel at a tongue so readily ambiguous,
Lying across her forked thigh.
I buy rum for her ‘many parents’, for her
One cheap dress a month suffices; in return
She gathers fish and wild-fruit from the blue
Mountain groves where no white man walks.
Once when I fished from the long canoes
A fish caught the hook in its lower jaw, laughing
I learnt this meant my vahine was unfaithful :
She answered ‘Beat me’ but I lay down by her side.
I bathe in ‘the stream of life’, naked to offend
The priestly beetles - Cezanne’s ‘red shout’ indeed.
Waiting for mail I accumulate bills, pictures and sores
Side by side, lying down alone in the dark.