Face down in the sand

by Kalilinoe Detwiler



Bonfires are illegal but no worry– or so cousins say
Cousins know best so we emerge through brush
Makapuʻu sunset sand fold over plunging feet
Sparks ignite with sinking sun sputter
splintered palette cast into the pit
Cousins & their friends pop bottles– toss caps
into boxes of rusted nails

Scattered waves fuss in the blinding night
tipsy cheeks lewa about the flames
lilting with firefly embers
They coax us from the shadows
Eager– we forget our slippers
pitch forward into the light

you heard?
night marchers

We fall to our knees on the outskirts
in spaces between cousins
Smoke blooms from gnawing flames
engulfs our bodies– sticking to hair
embedding in shirt fibers
eyes squint against air cinder
notice a single light on the black shore

night marchers
you know they coming when hear the drum

When they notice the red & blue glow
creeping along arid mountain wall
They toss sand to dampen burning coils
––then prod
stoke with voices & driftwood spears
The faraway light notices cousins’ warning
dimming briefly before building again
They pass the story between each other

s’posed to get naked
stupid– why they care if you naked?
you lie face down– flat–
head to the ground
hold your breath
if they catch you

They notice we are listening
their dimples deepen
they take you

We look away– beyond cousins’ flushed faces
in the distance a trail of teardrop flames
outline the shore
a troupe of random woods– colored smokes–
someone else's cousins
move as one without forgetting
a member of the procession
As we fixate on the slow approach
of far away torches
we reach for the bonfire
to calm chicken-skin arms

don’t look up
you make eye contact
you call the name of your ancestors
you gotta– or you gonna be–
You like catch crabs?

Cousins hand us buckets that echo against heels
the blue light lamp makes us hunger
for the fire that sinks farther & farther away
There is much to be feared on this journey
invisible rocks that puncture our soles
or souls wandering into the sea
gouging against razor reefs
But we go because it is our turn to go––
or so cousins say

We peer out––
We– lonely bodies at sea on an empty night
We know the night is not empty
nor the ocean a lonely place
How come cousins never feel lonely––
cousins never empty––
cousins never fear––

We fear

Is it the night that quenches even our lamp
or the trail of fires inching toward us
marching– insistently– in straight lines––
never stumbling– feet never plunging––
a march of stillness– illuminating order––
when we reach for each other
lock fingers with elbows
the flashlight dies

We are swallowed in darkness

The torches approach
under them warred faces & shadowed bodies
float forward– unwavering sails on smooth waters
dull drum boom tampers ocean’s clamor
We fall to the earth connected by numb limbs
shove our faces against the sand––
asleep– invisible––
pretend to be empty––
pretend to be alone––
we aren’t pretending––

We are afraid

Not of the warriors– kānaka whose feet fall
breaths away from our hands
pressed palms against the earth
We’ve no reason to be afraid of their drum or of torch
or that our sticky sea smoke scent
might waft on upward wind

We are afraid because we are curious
When we raise our heads & our eyes meet
a voice smothered in sand fails to call out––
a name
We do not know our ancestor’s name

Cousins far away stoke flame with cousin tongues
but here we lay– alone
in the dark
where all we can do is be still––
until we relearn the ocean’s song
until our lungs are soothed-by beloved’s burning breath
until we remember the names of those who march
under torchlight along the far shore


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