Face down in the sand

by Kalilinoe Detwiler



Bonfires are illegal but no worry, or so cousins say

Cousins know best so we trek through the brush

Until Makapuʻu sunset sand fold over plunging feet


Sparks ignite with the final flickers of a sinking sun

And the splintered palette is cast into the pit

Cousins and their friends pop bottles and toss caps

Into boxes of rusted nails


Lonely waves moan in the blinding night

Tipsy cheeks lewa around the flames

Lilting with firefly embers

They coax us from the shadows

In our eagerness we forget our slippers

And pitch forward into the light


you heard?

night marchers

We fall to our knees on the outskirts

In the space between our cousins

Smoke blooms from the gnawing flames and

Engulfs our bodies, sticking to our hair and embedding in our shirt fibers

We squint stinging eyes and notice

A single light on the black shore

night marchers 


you know they coming when hear the drum


We sift our hands through sand and search for small twigs

We came because cousins talk about bonfires, and because

The police never care, or so cousins say

When they notice the red and blue glow creeping along the dry mountain wall 

They toss sand on the pit to dampen burning coils

Before stoking again with voices and driftwood spears

The faraway light notices our cousins warning

Dimming briefly before blazing again


s’posed to get naked

stupid, why they care if you naked?


We cup cool sand and pour grains like water along cousins legs

As they pass the story between each other

you lie face down, flat–

head to the ground

hold your breath

if they catch you

They notice we are listening and their dimples deepen knowingly

they take you

We look away, beyond cousins flushed faces

In the distance more lights sprout

Soon a trail of teardrop flames outline the shore

A troupe of random woods and colored smokes

Someone else's cousins

Move as one without forgetting a single member of the procession

We, too, are not alone

But as we fixate on the slow approach of far away torches

We reach for the bonfire to calm the chicken-skin prickling our 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 our heels

and a flashlight whose blue light makes us hunger

for the fire that sinks farther and farther away

There is much to be feared on this journey

like invisible rocks that puncture our soles 

or our souls wandering into the sea

washing up against the break

and gouging against razor reefs

But we go because it is our turn to go, or so cousins say


We stop and peer into the sweeping ocean

Bodies lonely at sea on an empty night

We know the night is not empty, nor the ocean a lonely place

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 and lock fingers with elbows

the flashlight dies


We are swallowed in darkness


The torches approach and under them warred faces and shadowed bodies

float forward like unwavering sails on smooth waters

the dull booming of their drums mix with the spirited ocean’s clamor

We fall to the earth connected by numb limbs

and shove our faces against the sand, asleep, invisible–

pretend to be empty

pretend to be alone

We aren’t pretending anymore


We are afraid


But 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 and 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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