This Island on Which I Love You

And when, on this island on which
I love you, there is only so much land
to drive on, a few hours to encircle
in entirety, and the best of our lands
are touristed, the beaches foam-laced
with rainbowing suntan oil,
the mountains tattooed with asphalt,
pocked by telescoped domes,
hotels and luxury condos blighting
the line between ocean and sky,

I find you between the lines
of such hard edges, sitting on
the kamyo stool, a bowl of coconut,
freshly grated, at your feet.

That I hear the covert jackaling
of helicopters and jets overhead
all night through our open jalousies,
that my throat burns from the scorch
of the grenaded graves of my ancestors,
the vog that smears the Koʻolaus into a blur
of greens, that I wake to hear the grind
of you blending vegetables and fruit,
machine whirl-crunching coffee beans,
your shoulder blades channelling ocean,
a steady flux of current.

Past the guarded military testing grounds,
amphibious assault vehicles emerging
from the waves, beyond the tangles
of tarp cities lining the roads, past
the thick memory of molasses coating
the most intimate coral crevices,
by the box jellyfish congregating under
ʻOle Pau and Kāloa moons, at the park
beneath the emptied trees, I come
to find you shaking five-dollar coconuts
(because this is all we have on this island),
listening to the water to guess
its sweetness and youth.

On this island on which I love you,
something of you is in the rain rippling
through the wind that make the pipes
of Waikīkī burst open. Long brown
fingers of sewage stretch out
from the canal, and pesticided
tendrils flow from every ridge
out to sea, and so we stay inside
to bicker over how a plumeria tree
moves in the wind, let our daughters
ink lines like coarse rootlets
in our notebooks, crayon lines
into ladders on our walls
and sheets. Their first sentences
are sung, moonlit blowhole plumes
of sound that calls pebbles to couple,
caverns to be carved, ʻuala to roll
down the hillside again, and I could
choke on this gratitude for you all.

This island is alive with love,
its storms, the cough of alchemy
expelling every parasitic thing,
teaching me to love you with
the intricacies of island knowing,
to depend on the archipelagic
spelling of you lying next to me,
our blue-screen flares their own
floating islands after our daughter
has finally fallen asleep,
to trust in the shape and curve
of your hand reaching out to hold mine
making and remaking an island our own.


Qawem ya sha’abi, qawemhum. Resist my people, resist them.
—Dareen Tatour

Hawaiians are still here. We are still creating, still resisting.
—Haunani-Kay Trask

Stand in rage as wind and current clash
                                       rile lightning and thunder
fire surge and boulder crash

         Let the ocean eat and scrape away these walls
Let the sand swallow their fences whole
                       Let the air between us split the atmosphere

We have no land             No country
             But we have these bodies              these stories
this language of rage                    left 

                 This resistance is bitter
and tastes like medicine                 Our lands 
               replanted in the dark and warm             there

We unfurl our tangled roots                stretch
                             to blow salt across
             blurred borders of memory  

             They made themselves
fences and bullets             checkpoints 

gates and guardposts                           martial law

They made themselves
            hotels and mansions         adverse 
possession             eminent domain and deeds

                   They made themselves 
                                           through the plunder

They say we can never— They say 
                           we will never—because
            because they— 

            and the hills and mountains have been 
mined for rock walls                    the reefs 
            pillaged for coral floors

They say we can never—
                           and the deserts and dunes have been
shoveled and taken for their houses and highways—

                because we can never— because 
the forests have been raided                      razed 
and scorched and we                                 we the wards

refugees          houseless          present-
absentees       recognition refusers        exiled
uncivilized       disposable        natives

               our springs and streams have been
dammed—so they say we can never return

                       let it go accept this 
progress         stop living
            in the past—

but we make ourselves
         strong enough to carry all of our dead
                engrave their names in the clouds

We gather to sing whole villages awake 
        We crouch down to eat rocks like fruit
                 to hold the dirt the sand in our hands 

to fling words 
           the way fat drops of rain 
                   splatter off tarp or corrugated roofs

We remember the sweetness                We rise from the plunder
           They say there is no return                             
                   they never could really make us leave

Star-Spangled Banner

A betrayal
to stand
with your hand
over your heart
and sing
the song

of the country
your country

to read every star
on the flag
your country’s flag

and see the last one
there: small, white
and pointed

stitched into the blue
with a thin thread

as if
it has always
been that way

as if
it can never
be undone.

Ka ‘Ōlelo

O ke alelo ka hoe uli o ka ‘ōlelo a ka waha.
The tongue is the steering paddle of the words uttered by the mouth.
                                                      – ‘Ōlelo No‘eau


Think of all the lost words, still unspoken,
waiting to be given use, again, claimed,
or for newly born words to unburden
them of their meanings. There are winds and rains
who have lost their names, descending the slopes
of every mountain, each lush valley's mouth,
and the songs of birds and mo‘o, that cope
with our years of slow unknowing, somehow.
It was not long ago that ‘ōlelo
was silenced, along with its dying race,
who lived, then thrived, reverting to the old
knowing words. English could never replace
the land's unfolding song, nor the ocean's
ancient oli, giving us use again.


Like the sea urchin leaves, pimpling its shell
as its many spines let go, turn to sand,
my great-grandfather's Hawaiian words fell
silent, while his children grew, their skin tanned
and too thin to withstand the teacher's stick,
reprimands demanding English only.
The law lasted until 1986,
after three generations of family
swallowed our ʻōlelo like pōhaku,
learned to live with the cold, dark fruit under
our tongues. This is our legacy-- words strewn
among wana spines in the long record
the sand has kept within its grains, closer
to reclaiming our shells, now grown thicker.


Ka ‘ōlelo has a lilting rhythm
arising from the coastal mountains' moans
as they loosen their salted earth, succumb
to the ocean and its hunger for stone.
It carries the cadence of nā waihī,
born from the fresh rain in nā waipuna
and flowing past the fruiting ‘ulu trees,
wiliwili, kukui, and koa.
It holds the song my grandfather longs for
most, as he remembers his father's voice,
and regrets not asking him to speak more
Hawaiian, so that he may have the choice
to offer words in his inheritance,
knowing his ‘ohā will not be silenced.


Think of all the old words that have succumbed,
their kaona thrown oceanward for English
words we use like nets to catch the full sum
of our being, finding too little fish
caught in the mesh, even as we adjust
the gauge, reshaping them to suit our mouths.
I must admit I love the brittle crust
my only tongue's foreignness forms; it crowns
the dark, churning pith of prenatal earth
rising in the volcano's throat, unspoken
for now, founding my wide island of words.
And kaona, a ho‘okele's current,
circles during my wa‘a’s slow turn inward,
steering my tongue through each old word learned.


As the ‘ape shoot, whose delicate shoots
shoot forth their young sprouts, and spread, and bring forth
in their birth, many branches find their roots
in the dark, wet ‘ōlelo the earth bore.
My unripe tongue taps my palate, my teeth,
like a blind ko‘e that must feel its way
through the liquids, mutes and aspirates of speech,
the threading of breath and blood into lei:
"E aloha. ‘O wai kou inoa?"
I ask, after the language CD's voice.
"‘O Kekauoha ko‘u inoa,"
my grandfather answers, "Pehea ‘oe?"
So, we slowly begin, with what ‘ōlelo
we know; E ho‘oulu ana kakou.