STAR POems: HMS New Zealand

I tell my children you are here



in 1913 a Maori chief

gave the captain of HMS New Zealand

a piupiu, a skirt made from flax.


A ceremonial gift

with the prophecy that if worn

or kept close by in conflict


it would protect the ship

and crew – and his words were

remembered at the battles


of Dogger Bank, Heligoland Bight

and Jutland. It was the luckiest

ship they said. No loss of life


and because of this

a young bandsman, a flautist

called Francis survived


who had a son who had

a daughter who now stands

before the exhibition case


looking at the skirt displayed,

thinking of the tribal hands

that wove the leaves


which saved the sailors,

and how they’d grown the crop

from the seed of the flax.


Denise Bennett

Originally published in Brittle Star, 2018.