Lei Kukui, Lei Kuahu

The impermanence of lei
On dark altars of stone
A dream of lei kukui
Placed on the kuahu
Coils of lush green leaves

Fragrant leaf stems neatly knotted
Plaited along a backspine
Joined one to the other
Bound by a fast symmetry
Calling forth 

The spectral presences
Of our gods 
We seek your permission,
That you will hear 
Our importunate prayers

Our songs through the far forests
And as with birds
Contemn their dark silences with light;
We seek your companionship,
On our right shoulders and left

Above us and below
The surround of your playful
And somber accompaniments
Your presences in our gardens
Your residencies on our altars;

We seek wakefulness,
That we long slumbering
Yet evanescent
Will become luminous
As leaves on brightened paths;

We seek your acceptance,
That the hidden canopies
Will reveal themselves
Each bright leaf 
Giving itself of its own accord;

We seek resonance,
From the tops of our heads
To the bottoms of our feet
From the center of our chests
To the leaf tips of our hands

We seek all of these things—
A purer correspondence 
With the radiance of leaves.

Related Poems

A Amazônia está queimando

               I
               We sing and dance in praise of the butterfly—
               translucent blue,
               gilded wings,
               dances—
               all its life
               from orchid to cacao,
               ceiba to banana and fig,
               tying invisible strings
               that hold our home in the sky.

               It must,
               lest we drop 
               into an abyss,
               or drift 
               where the gods won’t find us.
               This place 
               where butterflies work 
               for you and me,
               keep rivers full and flowing—
               Amapari, Canapantuba and Feliz,
               the wide and deep goddess far beyond we call the Sea,
               Rain—floods and drought,
               a mist or fog,
               the sun finds us each dawn
               after a journey home,
               when the moon comes to guide 
               both the weary and the ready
               to pounce and hide—
               our home is burning.

               II
               Menacing fires blaze.
               Moneyed Whites rid the earth
               of the people,
               anacondas and spider monkeys,
               hawks and toucans,
               cicadas and cinnamon,
               glass frogs and vines,
               palm and rubber trees,
               tapirs and manatees.
               We hear their screams
               And all that dies silently.
               A Amazônia está queimando.

               They want our abundant lands
               and to annihilate our Mother’s opulence.
               They will end the dance of the butterflies
               and then what?  
               We, too, will die
               like in a story told by the ancestors
               that we only imagined.
               They come for our copper, gold, ore
               Ranchers and loggers raze the land.
               At the United Nations Bolsonaro1 announced,
               Don’t listen to what you hear on the news. Lies.
               Nothing is burning, nothing has been set ablaze.

               III
               We are Waiapi.
               We keep the butterflies happy.
               They stay working
               to hold the planet in place.
               We are the guardians
               of our Mother. 
               Each day before I go to school, 
               I smear the sweet juice of urucum seeds
               on my body and face.
               They are protection 
               from insects and evil spirits.
               I sit in a classroom with thatched roof 
               and other Waiapi women.
               I am the only grandmother there.
               I am Chief of my people.
               I will learn to write and speak
               for the butterfly
               to those who set fires 
               and to the ones who may help 
               save our home.


1Current president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro.

Bamboo, the Dance

How free and lush the bamboo grows, the bamboo grows and grows
Shoots and morasses, fillies and lassies and shreds and beds and rows
O phloem and pistil, nodes and ovules
The bamboo grows and grows
Her release, her joy, her oil, her toil, her moxie, her terror, her swirl
Dig deeper into soil, deeper into her soul, what do you find in my girl
Thrash of black hair and silken snare, face in the bottom of the world
Bound by ankles, poor deer, poor sow, O delicate hooves and fascicles
Dead doe, dead doe, dead doe
Wrists together, searing red tethers, blood draining from her soles
O choir, O psalm, O soaring fearsome tabernacle
The bamboo grows, the bamboo grows and grows
Through antlers and eyeholes, O sweet soul, O sweet, sweet soul

Thin green tails, purple entrails, the bamboo grows and grows
She flailed and wailed through flimsy veils, through bones and hissing marrow
Nobody to hear her, but wind and chaff, a gasp, then letting go
They loved her, then stoned her, buried her near her ancestors
My mother, my sister, my soul

Shimmering mesh, a brocade sash, hanging on a distant oracle
Springboks dance on shallow mounds, echoes, echoes, echoes

Speaking Tree

I had a beautiful dream I was dancing with a tree.

                                                                   —Sandra Cisneros

Some things on this earth are unspeakable:
Genealogy of the broken—
A shy wind threading leaves after a massacre,
Or the smell of coffee and no one there—

Some humans say trees are not sentient beings,
But they do not understand poetry—

Nor can they hear the singing of trees when they are fed by
Wind, or water music—
Or hear their cries of anguish when they are broken and bereft—

Now I am a woman longing to be a tree, planted in a moist, dark earth
Between sunrise and sunset—

I cannot walk through all realms—
I carry a yearning I cannot bear alone in the dark—

What shall I do with all this heartache?

The deepest-rooted dream of a tree is to walk
Even just a little ways, from the place next to the doorway—
To the edge of the river of life, and drink—

I have heard trees talking, long after the sun has gone down:

Imagine what would it be like to dance close together
In this land of water and knowledge. . .

To drink deep what is undrinkable.