Tayi Tibble (Ngāti Porou/Te Whānau ā Apanui)
When Lorde said, "I hate the winter, can't stand the cold," I felt that. I felt that deep in my red, flaming, Polynesian heart. After a few pale teenage years of internalised racism, indie music and whitewashing myself, I now take pride in my oceanic heritage. My bedroom, for example, is full of palm tree motifs. I'm obsessed with smelling like coconut. I wear a lot of crochet and pāua and my friends have taken to singing "island girl, island girl", in a Cardi B voice, whenever they see me.
My boyfriend promised to take me to the Cook Islands as soon as the borders opened, but this is yet to come true. In the summer, we spent New Year's at my friend Harry's childhood home, which boasts tonnes of exotic plants and a delicious, lightly salted, swimming pool. I lay by that pool in total peace; a taste of the perpetually warm and tropical lifestyle I aspire towards. We went back to that house a few weeks ago and Pelham had to keep the fire going the whole time. No one went near the pool.
It's hard to be an island girl when you live in Wellington, the city known for its bad and temperamental weather, notoriously harsh winds coming in off the violent Cook Strait or whatever. The weather is kind of abusive and manipulative, in the sense that living here, you start to get used to it and think it's normal. Often, I'll travel somewhere else and feel suspicious at the stillness, at the air around me, all warm and reasonable. In Wellington, we are lucky if we get about 20 reasonable days out of the year and on those days you'll see the entire city squashed on to Oriental Bay, eating pink sherbet icecreams with an air of desperation.
But even in the most tacky and phony iterations of summer, I am happy; salt spray in my hair, my jewellery going green, exposing the costume. In the winter, I march around Wellington with a perpetual bad mood. I'm always cold and I spend too much money on the power bill and Ubers. I had a fringe for years and years but finally gave it up and grew it out when I was finally sick of the wind giving me a full mullet whenever I left my house.
I went to a writers' festival recently and, when asked by the organiser how I found the accommodation, I said, "Cold." It was true. She gave me a bit of side eye and said I probably wasn't wearing enough clothes, which was also probably true. I find it both dull and difficult to dress in the winter. I'm either inappropriately dressed or dressed like a 10-year-old boy from the year 2005. But I'm working hard on a winter wardrobe. I have three fur coats - one pink, one leopard print and one pink and green and kind of monsterish that I convinced the novelist Annaleese Jochems to sell to me.
Most of the time I'm too scared to wear them on the 99 per cent chance it will rain and the fur will mat. So instead, I have one pink rain jacket that I succumb to living in. A Capricorn I dated briefly bought it for me. He was a very practical and serious man and, on our first date, he poked at my lavender YSL bag and said that he would never buy me anything frivolous like a designer handbag, but turned up on our second date with the rain jacket after I told him I didn't have one and he couldn't understand how I didn't have one in a city with such awful weather. He was from Melbourne and it didn't work out. He kept telling me I was away with the fairies. Last winter, I bought my first piece of proper wool knitwear from a vintage reseller on Instagram; a fluffy baby pink sweater. I felt very adult and responsible.
I try my best to lean into winter by telling myself I am an icy girl. I've been on the hunt for a necklace with a snowflake on it. Growing up, the peak vision of beauty to me was Jennifer Lopez in the music video for All I Have, ft. LL Cool J. In the music video, she wears a long pink coat with big fluffy cuffs and a collar. Her makeup is flushed and pretty. She wears diamond hoop earrings and lots of sparkly lip-gloss. I want to wear lots of lip-gloss in the winter but the Wellington wind makes my hair stick to my lips and I have a deep phobia of hair in my mouth. I want to walk around Wellington like Jennifer Lopez does in the streets of New York, with snow falling into her hair perfectly, creating a little pale halo.
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I've only seen the snow twice. The first time was when my family and I went for a "ski trip" with my grandparents to St Arnaud, though no one skied, we only toboganned. Before we went, Mum took us to Savemart for warm clothes and I tried manifesting a pink coat like J-Lo but could only find a limp kind of deflated, grey puffer. As we drove closer to the mountain range, we begged Mum to stop the car every time we spotted even a suggestion of snow. It was so exciting, so exotic and foreign. When she finally stopped the car, because Opa Henri wanted to check her tyres, we ran out to play with snow, only to find ourselves somewhat underwhelmed because the snow was hard, and dirty, and more like ice.
Mum said it was because it hadn't been snowing and only fresh snow is soft. My aunty gave Israel, my little brother who must have been 1 or 2 at the time, a snowball to hold and Mum took a picture. We all busied ourselves with the snow again and, after a serious and significant amount of time, we looked back at Israel who was still holding that fistful of snow. His poor cute baby fingers were cold, bluish and stiff. "Put it down!" we all yelled at him. Mum helped it out of his hands and he was extremely distrustful of the snow after that. Someone had to hold him up and away from the snow the whole time because if we tried to put him down, he would start crying. I didn't like being up in the mountains anyway, because the parts of the mountain where the sun didn't hit and the shadows fell, made me feel sad and lonely for absolutely no reason and I also wanted to cry.
The second time was in 2011, when anomalous weather conditions made it snow in Wellington for the first time in like, 50 years or something. My friends and I were all in the school hall, rehearsing for Barbershop Nationals, when the air seemed kind of weird and charged, the sky a different colour. Some random Year 9 burst through the hall doors puffing and said, "It's snowing!" We were all like "Eh?" and "Whatever" and "It's probably just hail" but also like "Really?" and "Let me see!" We all ran out of rehearsal while our teachers yelled at us to come back and rehearse. It really was snowing. We all ran around, in disbelief, delirious and laughing, freezing in our school uniforms.
After rehearsals, Mum picked us up, and we drove around Porirua, delighted at the white caking everything. The steep little hill off of Whitford Brown that we had to do painful bursts of fitness up and down for PE was completely iced. Dads were busy helping their kids make toboggans out of cardboard and street signs. When Mum had to get something at the Warehouse, my sister and I had a snow fight with a bunch of randoms in the carpark, and Aniqueja, who is a Pisces, and prone to immediately crying every water fight or play on the PlayStation we ever had for example, was laughing her head off, happy as the whole time. There was snow all in her hair. She looked like an angel.
Tayi Tibble's second poetry collection, Rangikura (Victoria University Press, $25), is out now.