Saturday, September 7, 2019

Brad Waters, on the event of his funeral


Brad Waters

The last time I saw Brad, Anne and I had just driven him home from the hospital. I offered my hand as he got out of the car, but he ignored it. He walked up the stairs to his house, clutching both railings to maintain his balance. (He always did that, my kids told me.) And then, for me, he was gone.

On one of the Over the Hill Gang hikes in 2011 we were hiking above Pearl Ridge (I think) when the trail suddenly ended. Instead of turning around, we bushwhacked down a very steep incline, full of plants and rocks and pukas. Brad gently lifted Zoe down some of the steepest boulders. The walk up the other side of the valley was also steep, although there was a path. Brad moved up the hill svery lowly and deliberately with his dogs. He met us later at the top.

There was this quality of loving persistence to Brad. When he looked at plants on the trail, he looked carefully. He could name each plant: in Latin, in English, in Hawaiian. He knew each plant’s history, its uses. Often, he took a photo. When the photos had been downloaded, they were often surprising. A fern at such close proximity you could see lines of spores, some open and some closed, running down the vein like natural Pacmen. His photographs often made the ordinary world seem strange, so you could realize that it is.

There is a poem by the Japanese zen poet, Ikkyo, from the 14th century, about living and dying. It goes like this:

Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going--
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.

I’m grateful that my two simple happenings overlapped with Brad’s.


Sunday, September 1, 2019

Stage of grief


"It's not color that I see, but I see." (Etel Adnan). It's not the past I see, like a mental diorama whose dusty zebras cross the veldt. S dreamed his grandfather kicked us out of the house so he could clean up some leaves outside. The mango tree has been cut since he died. You can see Molokai now on a clear day through palms and over roofs. R pronounces "roof" like the sound a dog makes in print. Lilith chases the singers of cock-a-doodle-doo, the gulch opera.


I get a notification. Must remember to turn them off, and the beeping. S says he was surprised his instructor told him to watch video games, think about them. The course is on video game design.


I tell B I don't usually suffer guilt, but I do. She had gone gray, gone thin, gone abstract, but I didn't call. It's a sticky word, "call." Less sticky, though, than "death." Do other miracles hurt as much?


The verb "to pass." She passed for. She passed you on the highway. She passed along her kuleana. She passed the test to get into "standard English school," because she knew "bolocano" was pronouned with a "v." She passed last Friday.


Hurricane and mass shooting make our president go golfing. He's less dangerous that way. The road from Midland through Odessa leads to El Paso. I am suspicious. Remember the pronoun "they" in Pynchon, how it peppered the dense, paper bound text? Remember how "they" were always making things happen but we never heard who "they" were? This was not a "they" in transition, a "they" who passed from one to the other pier, but "they" who organized our mysteries for us. It was a more delicate time, at least symbolically.


I know what the distress flag means, and I know the Kingdom flag, the splintered paddle flag, yellow and green. But I don't get the state flag that's not in distress when paired with a Cleveland Browns flag. Or the bed of a pick-up, two state flags waving right side up (is it?), an Oakland Raiders sticker beneath the black window where I see a flag and a royal palm.


Her new book mixes poetry and performance. We fold the book outward, watching the raised cardboard push into a dimension we can touch. S enters to say everything is going well in the game, except the Cards are behind and the benches did clear. There were benches at the pond, one student reported after our slow walk. One man was eating his lunch. They all saw French fries, and one assumed hamburger, but I'm pretty sure it was fried fish inside his dull bun.


You don't stop thinking, you release what you think. What you think does not burn, but you don't want to hold it for long. If you want to hurt yourself, try putting an ice-cube in your palm and closing your hand. Strong sensation without injury. Or imagine a hot plate and your hand opening to let it go. Lilith has us in the palms of our hands, as we reach to pet her stomach.


If language were not absurd, it couldn't save us. A brawl during the mystery play clears the chairs and reveals the altar, emptied. Where alteration finds, I promise to remember you.









Friday, August 30, 2019

Grief zone


Grief is not a standard time, nor is there daylight savings. "To save" is not in question.


You can't save memories the way you do money, through the abstraction of direct deposit. Depression remains not as fact but as fear, an impacted tooth that's not likely to break the gum's surface, but sends signals to the nerves.


Lilith was so stressed by a vaccination that the vet tech's hand was smeared with her blood. Her bandage was blue, with sparkles. I bought pill pockets so the cat would ingest her fluoxetine. Inappropriate peeing termed "behavioral."


It's not that we lose philosophy when history shrinks, but that philosophy lodges in detail. Or in the verb form "shuffle walk" (Marie Hara) that catches my student's voice where he expects a comma to intervene.


One student thought the prose poem was about a "normal person," and then she realized the speaker was homeless.


Marie's daughter says she was briefly in memory care, where she mothered everyone. To care for memory is still to lose it, name by noun by sense of direction. The renovated palace of memory is more internet than synapse, a fund sent off-shore to evade taxes. Each incident is an evasion, blood-letting in the corner of a ballroom denoting the anecdote you mangle as you tell it. The anecdote of origin is most inclined toward bending. He fired the aide who talked about his family, then tweeted out a classified photograph.


An error occurred while trying to save this post. A saved post is only saved in the sense that it remains on the internet. The error is not one of commission or omission. It is nearly as mysterious as death, but less serrated.


"Poetry reaches the unsaid, and leaves it unsaid," writes Etel Adnan. So many reasons to unsay, to move from "crayon" to "clown," from "crumpled" to "crumbled." Watch how the letters bob and weave on the chart, think how you wish you could distinguish the G from the C at several paces. Did she work with the homeless? one student asked.


The surprise is in the strength of the loss. She reads her mother's diary, about her mother. I write to her to ask her to lunch. We do not replace each other the way one cat replaces the last. S opened Tortilla's ashes the other day; his grandfather's sit on the piano in a box. He wonders what will happen when he can't lean on his parents. The way we catch on a bit of bone among the ashes. It signifies very little.







Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Words for and about Marie Hara


Marie Hara was co-organizer of the Talk Story conference; she was vice president of the Hawai`i Literary Arts Council; she was not a founding editor of Bamboo Ridge (that was Darrell and Eric); she was simply someone who worked on the press for 40 years. Marie was not BR's break-out star; that was Lois-Ann Yamanaka. The novel she long toiled on never came out, though her wonderful book of short stories, _Bananaheart_, did. While Marie read widely, traveled far, taught powerfully (the first course in Asian American literature at UHM, in fact) she approached everyone with her grace and kindness, not her high-powered intellect. She was an easy target when Bamboo Ridge was attacked in the mid-90s for being a coterie, local Asian, press. She was easy to dismiss as the "mother figure" of the Bamboo Ridge study group, a little too insistent at times, her ideas sometimes a bit "wacky." But Marie was the real thing, sweet like steel, her bright smile a knowing and compassionate one. She taught me so much. As a young whippersnapper white female poet new to Hawai`i, she drew me in, welcomed me and my work, collaborated on the HLAC when I was so suddenly named its president two years in. She found me a lovely apartment a few doors down from hers, where I lived until I moved off with Bryant to the windward side. She spent 20 minutes once explaining the meaning of "da kine" to me. She told me what it's like to be an older woman. She talked a blue streak about her husband and her daughters, and later on about her grandchildren. She talked about the Writer's House at UPenn, where her husband and daughters went to college and dreamed of starting one here. She talked about understanding the way adoptees search for family as a way to seek connection (she had a missing father). She loved my children. She talked about being half-Irish and half-Japanese, and co-edited an anthology of hapa work with Nora Okja Keller. Everything for her was co-. She talked about literature all the time, and read Roddy Doyle's work, everyone's really. She called me a "word poet," which I found funny. She nominated me for the Cades Award for years until I asked her please not to. And then I got it and asked her to introduce me, which she did. I have no memory of what she--or I--said, I just remember she was there, as she always was, a beautiful welcoming presence. I love you, Marie Hara.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Marie Hara



Marie Hara has died. For the last 40 years, Marie was an author, editor, teacher. mentor, and community builder, a crucial member of the literary community in Hawai`i.

Marie was co-organizer of the crucial Talk Story Conference in the late 1970s that led to the creation of Bamboo Ridge Press, which “publishes literature by and about Hawai’i’s people.” Her book of short stories, Bananaheart and Other Stories, was published by Bamboo Ridge in 1994. She co-edited, with Nora Okja Keller, the anthology, Intersecting Circles: the voices of hapa women in poetry and prose (1999). She was winner of the Elliot Cades Award for Literature n 1995. She taught the first classes in Asian American Literature in the state of Hawai`i and was a long-time instructor in the UH English Department. [I’m not sure what years she taught.]

Those are some facts about Marie. The truth is less tangible, but also significant. Marie was kind, quirky, attentive and compassionate to her students and friends, open-minded in her reading and teaching practices. She leaves behind her husband, John, who designed UHWO’s campus and the Luce wing of the Hawai`i Museum of Art (among many other buildings), two daughters, and grandchildren.

She was a dear friend.

Embodiment


The old haole man in maroon shorts and white tank top undershirt hobbles out of his townhouse, holding a broom, a red fly swatter and a large can masked by a damp paper towel. He heads to his seat by the mailboxes to sit underneath a "Work Order" sign. Fly swatter in left hand, he scratches his back.


The 30-something year old Asian man passes Lilith and me on our way toward the highway. He has an earring in each lobe, wears blue swim trunks and an off-white shirt. He looks at Lilith but not at me, though we're close. His gait is stiff, arms rigid at his sides. He walks to the light to cross over to the shopping area.


On our way back down Kahekili I see a young man in swim trunks, dancing at the light; his movements awkward, head bobbing up and down. I also see someone with long brown legs carrying a large black plastic bag, a black piece of luggage and an umbrella.


We follow the person with the garbage bag; she stops half-way to Hui Kelu to attend to this precarious load. I ask her if a hand is needed to the next block. She turns to say no, has on red lipstick, her face framed by dark black hair, appears transgender. Starts to cross the street soon after, examines something on the street with her slipper, heads toward a dumpster by the road. Garbage day.


Lilith and I walk around the cemetery building where we picked up Brad's ashes a week ago. The parking stalls are full. Scent of incense.


"Marie, Marie hold on tight" had nothing to do with a waste land, but with dear Marie, who just relaxed her grip on this earth. Nothing to do with loss except record it. Hold onto the rails until the shaking stops for a time. Take another nap.


We had no sooner entered our Travelodge room in Tacoma than we heard a boom and sparks flew outside the window. An earth mover had ripped a line off the pole. Later, a large square of yellow tape appeared between two poles and the back of the motel. Men came out to point up.


Attention to detail involves either the shrinking of history or the inventory of what is still in front of us, bulk item couches and mountains and teenagers practicing their parallel parking on the hills. The embrace of what has yet to mean anything. There's comfort in that. The dull object that has no word for you. It's only after you pass that you realize it was the prompt for a cultural studies essay, like the side by side photos of Snitch (black as a tire) and (brown) Kwan Yin, index finger folded over to touch thumb. We read that the figure is male, but can also be rendered as female. One is on a pedestal, the other on a stair, but you are not allowed to touch either of them.


Farther down in the gallery, another Buddha sports a curled mustache, like one of the Three Musketeers. Barry remarks on the embodiment of spirit, which is at once neither, both.






Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Box of ashes


The woman who handed us his ashes in a pink cardboard box inside a pink tote bag said she'd seen me and Lilith in the morning, walking. "Small dog who struts, yeah? So cute."


The woman who handed us his ashes in a pink box lingered to chat. Across from us a woman in sunglasses sat on a long bench, her mouth set. An employee said to her as he strutted by, "they just need to design the head-stone." He wiped sweat from the back of his bald and sun-burned head, disappeared into an office door, and then walked by the other way.


A stone gargoyle stands in front of the air-conditioning units near the benches we sit on.


I tell the woman who handed us the ashes that my mother is still in my closet. Our late cat is still in a tin near the television. My neighbor says her dog's ashes nearly fell off their resting place when her neighbors banged on the wall (her living dogs bark). She would have killed them if they knocked her Ginger's ashes on the floor.


The space of this meditation is flat.