Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day at the Alzheimer's Home

[on television around the corner from the lunch room: The Devil's Brigade]

The speaker of most lines is an old woman with a New England accent. There is music in the background.

"I want to see my two younger rooms."

"You wouldn't expect her to pick your feet, would you?"

"Everyone has feelings."

"Just forget it!"

"My place--there--they didn't give you--gauze--because she didn't really want to do it--maybe it was her daughter--which would be who--give it all back to her and . . . house, yeah, had it described, especially."

"I think legally they can't do that."

P enters on the arm of a social worker. P's face is blue, her shirt is blue. P still moans, though more quietly than last time. The swelling's gone down, I'm told. Are you upset about something, the social worker asks her, after they sit at the window.

"Every boy that you are."

Don't eat the ice. She eats the ice. Moves a cube from one plastic glass to another, her fingernails pink, like mom's. Her neighbor who doesn't speak indicates there's something wrong. She pushes back the table cloth, lifts her glass, tries to place it in her neighbor's bowl of pear slices.

"Candy. We've been a single and a diamond. Have to get a new job. A sensitive person. They have squares and they have one place to another."

Children. Children who need other children. And yet letting our grown up pride. Like children.

"That jacket, 12, try to change, 18 is it?"

People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. One very special person, your soul, half and now you're whole, the luckiest people in the world.

"Look over that car talking."


I'm in love again and the feelings. Yes. And I know what to do.

"Pay for it--cash.
Another one she did. I know she made she seemed to travel 7. Yes she said, just the one."

My love went to London, left not returned, I'm going to London.

"The first guy. After I, you were, yes I was surprised.
Avoid 5.
1, 2, and then oy 5.
They get I don't"

There's a story told
To love
easy to learn women promise
She never sighed or cried.

Think so I put that on before I finished it
Her engine and I think it's moving" (regards sweet potato from above, below).

Every rolling stone
Home sweet home

I'm a rolling stone until today

"That's what it was they, they told her
We did we saw it
8 books 8 hours the time we spent.
They were forced to visit
50 of age."

Railroad track
Taken on back
Why did I decide to go?

Mrs. L is Korean, translated from Japanese, lived in China. Speaks no language now. Her son a doctor, comes on the weekends, not this one.


"Sadie's pastor.
Werner's yeah."


God bless the child that's got his own.

"I haven't got a pan.
If I can get in 6 towns.
By color except by or black
I know she think she had her
(laughs) came up & says"

Something's bound to begin

I remember
My mother was at Anzio.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Illness & Insight: Nancy Gerber on Alzheimer's & Jill Bolte Taylor on Stroke

Until I read Nancy Gerber's chapbook-sized memoir of her mother's Alzheimer's yesterday, I hadn't thought through my own reasons for ending Dementia Blog at the point I first saw my mother settled into her Alzheimer's home. At the time I thought I would end the blog there because all else would become repetition--not poetic repetition, but dull repetition, like the repeated repetitions in this sentence. (Not insistence, Ms. Stein, just repetition.) But I thought again when I arrived at the last page of Nancy Gerber's My Mother's Keeper. Here is end of the final paragraph:

"When I am with my mother I feel completely alone. In a room filled with people--residents and staff--I am alone. I have entered the crawl space of Alzheimer's."

Her mother is safely in her home, if not at home. And so the narrative ends, not so much with the mother, but with a daughter whose sense of aloneness mimics--in some small way--the solitude of the Alzheimer's patient. (It's worth noting that all three books I'm writing about here, including my own, are about mothers and daughters at the point their roles reverse.)

So is it a mother's safety that causes us to close the page on her? Is it that admission into an Alzheimer's home is itself a marker of her self loss? So hard to write about someone who does not speak or interact or do much more than sit. Is it that without a "self" about whom to write (marked as dramatic, incapable, angry, confused) we stop writing? For Nancy Gerber, the last image of her mother that we have is one of her wearing clothes that had not been hers, but now belong to her because she wears them: "and then I remembered: laundry was done communally, and we had not sewn on nametapes as we'd been instructed. Those were not her clothes when she came in, but they were now." Or is it, less happily, that the Alzheimer's sufferer enters a space past poetry, past narrative, past art? (One student who read my Dementia Blog pronounced it too "aestheticizing" and I suspect this would be a tipping point for him. But for me, the aesthetic is so much a part of it, whatever "it" you mean--writing, losing language, imagining events and people, revising history away from fact and into fantasy, the "it" that remains when nothing else does.)

When I ended my first blog about my mother, it was out of relief that she had a place where she could not set fires or fail to eat or attack a caregiver. It was also out of a sense that I had nothing left to write. That last feeling has since proved false. If Alzheimer's is a long narrative, then it is one that continues well past its denouement; there are fewer moments of drama, fewer crises, fewer places where a writer might find meaning. It is a long farewell, like a film that cannot locate its own conclusion. But true to life, to death, it goes on.

I have continued to blog about my mother outside the book I wrote about her. But the blogging has moved from a direct focus on her, which anchored the book, to readings of documents about her and sketches about the other residents of her home, which appear occasionally on this blog. What moves me, keeps me from feeling the "crawl space of Alzheimer's" with which Gerber ends her story, is the work of the staff that cares for my mother and her peers. In the absence of much connection between her and me, one is found between me and her caregivers and her; we triangulate well. There is much to learn from the interactions of "normal" people with those whose lives are what Stevens called "of mere being," if "mere" is the word.

On a recent episode of Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett, Dr. Alan Dienstag remarked that he is now less afraid of Alzheimer's than he was before he began treating Alzheimer's patients. While Americans fear this more than any other disease, he finds that his (advanced?) patients are not in pain, they are not anxious; it is their families who suffer. Where repetition may feel deadly to me when I visit my mother, repetition can be seen as a gift to her. She cannot remember that I sent flowers (though she's "sure they must have come"), but each time she sees a flower she smiles. I cannot say what her "now" is, but for her it lasts precisely because it does not stick to memory. The last time I visited I showed her on-line photographs of my in-laws' dogs. She smiled, engaged with the pictures more than she had with me for a couple of days.

In My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor has written more a book of practical Buddhism than of science. Her descriptions of what happens when you have a stroke are vivid, dramatic, doubtless of value to the scientific community. But the story that interests her more is that of losing her self and then revising it, of losing memory and then altering it. Or, more particularly, of maintaining an ability to lose herself anew. While I suspect that her divisions of self into left and right brains are simplistic in a scientific sense (what do I know?), she uses those divisions to map out a self perpetually working out differences between linear time, particularity, boundaries, ego, and work and time that is all present, in which particulars dissolve into universals, the ego gets put aside, and work doesn't get done. By the end of the book I was reminded of a college professor I had named Louis DuPre; he was a Belgian Catholic, a tiny man with little--but very spiffy--shoes. He would draw a line on the board to distinguish between our world and a transcendent one. Up was better than down. He would hector us by demanding to know why it was NOT a good thing to sit on an island and simply be. Between the shoes and the revaluing of time, I was hooked. Now I find him on-line. When asked to define the "spiritual" life, DuPre responds: "Such an attitude originates within the self; it is not derived from the force of inherited habits nor from people's tendency to yield to social pressure. To attain the religious life the believer must be alert to the inner voice."

For Taylor, that inner voice emerged out of the silence of her stroke. Her "left brain's" monkey mind stilled, she could sense a larger wholeness. She could sense this before she could again express it. Left brain now does the bidding of the right by taking notes on that recognition. Now I do not know which brain is left for an Alzheimer's patient, though I do recognize in my mother of a couple of years back the sense of there being a pleasurable "now," the now of flowers noticed over and again in the space of 20 minutes, or even the now that means she could not remember that we were there visiting her. Yes, this is something to fear; but no, it's not the worst that can happen. Those of us who remember become the stenographers of these moments of recognition. We, too, have our places in the Alzheimer's home. We are its visitors from the left brain.

I will be visiting my mother for several days at the end of this week and early the next. She had a bad fall several days ago, and we got the call at 2 a.m. (Hawai`i time . . .). But she recently failed to qualify for hospice care; her simple expression of disinterest in the outside world does not mean she's "actively dying." And so the story continues, or images that might be stories were they connected through histories linking her to her contemporaries, her to me, her to the world. Those flickers are also worth attending to. They may hint at a paradoxical wholeness amid the self's many losses.

[I found Nancy Gerber's book on the fine Alzheimer's poetry website run by Gary Glazner. I have not done it justice here, because it so provoked me into my own meditations, but it's well worth reading; the photographs are also quite moving, obliquely so.]

Friday, May 21, 2010

_KAILUA_ : The Book as Plural Pronoun

I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to un-link two intellectual and cultural movements now current at the University of Hawai`i. One involves the ongoing recovery of Hawaiian language, orature, literature, and culture, a project that has gained momentum since the 1970s. The other is a critique of Asian settler colonialism (by implication also White Settler Colonialism) set forth in Candace Fujikane's and Jonathan Okamura's recent anthology of essays, Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawai`i. University of Hawai`i Press). When these two ways of thinking are linked, this happens: "You can’t talk about alliances between local non-Hawaiians and Hawaiians. If you’re not Hawaiian, you’re a settler and part of the colonial problem." If we cannot make alliances, then how are we to oppose the scourges of militarism, over-development, and an economy almost exclusively dependent on tourism, to say nothing of education, the losses of social services, and so on? If we cannot make alliances, then how can we celebrate culture(s) rather than argue issues of who came first? If the settler/native divide is seen as a permanent condition, then how can we together deal with Hawai`i's tragic and often criminal history?

A new book published by the Kailua Historical Society provides some clues as to how to celebrate Hawaiian culture, while decoupling that celebration (and grieving) from the divisiveness of "settler colonialism." In her introduction to the beautiful and incisive volume, Davianna Pōmaika`i McGregor describes the book this way: "There are memoirs and documents which introduce the reader to a succession of resident families who are Hawaiian, Haole, Portuguese, Chinese, and Japanese, military, and multiethnic." She then discusses the mo`olelo retold by Kahikina de Silva, stories that are used to critique contemporary Kailua, describing "the underlying message of this work" as "those who live in and enjoy Kailua should work together to re-connect with and care for the land and water resources of their ahupua`a. This involves a respect for the indigenous spiritual knowledge of the land and the Native Hawaiian ancestors who provided stewardship for the `āina (land)."

There are myriad directions to go with this book, but the one that drew me in was linguistic. (Another worth taking is photographic; not only are the archival photographs amazing, but so are contemporary photographs by the team of Piliāmo`o, or Mark Hamasaki and Kapulani Landgraf.) While I'm accustomed to reading experimental poetry that uses several languages at once, while I sometimes listen to gypsy punk by Gogol Bordello delivered in American English and Ukrainian Russian, and while the linguistic field of my daughter's soccer team is mixed Pidgin and Standard English, most of the non-fiction books I read are in one language. This book is different. While most of the essays are in English, the mo`olelo are cited in Hawaiian (`oiwi) only, and vast stretches of de Silva's text exists in a between-language, one that assumes prior knowledge of Hawai`i. While some Hawaiian phrases are put in quotations, hence, "With our persistent endeavor to 'nānā i ke kumu,' we ensure that the ensuing ponds and tributaries run clear" (Kahikina de Silva), most are not. Gone are the italics of old, or the quotation marks. What remains are sentences in which many of the nouns (at least) are Hawaiian. In introducing the selections from a traditional epic, Makalei ka Laau Pii Ona a ka I`a o Moa-ula-Nui-Akea i Kaulana, or "the story of the sudden loss and slow restoration of pono to Kailua," de Silva writes sentences like this one:

"As a piko, then, Kawainui joined the people of Kailua with their gods, their neighboring ahupua`a, and their own ali`i and fellow po`e kānaka."

Non-translation goes both ways, of course, suggesting at once the inability of English to convey Hawaiian cultural markers, even as it invites the non-Hawaiian speaking reader to learn these markers by way of context, not via a rote exchange of words. (There are perhaps metaphors of economy to be found here, as translation-by-exchange more resembles capital, while translation-by-example is a less abstract condition.) These sections of the book, marked by their appearance on goldenrod colored paper, record problems in governance among Hawaiians who lived in the Kailua area. In her retelling of the mo`olelo, de Silva critiques contemporary capitalist practices--those that are transforming Kailua a generic town of adobe-colored store fronts and a Whole Foods-to-be, rather than essentializing them as belonging to Haole, or Asian, "outsiders." "'Makalei' reminds us that each boundary is in fact a point of connection as much as it is one of separation; that ahupua`a, though self-sustaining, are necessarily cooperative entities; and that simply living on the land does not make one a contributing, symbiotic part of the land." The boundaries that connect are the ones to hold close.

My in-laws live in Lanikai, a section of Kailua that has, over the past several decades, been "discovered" by the rich and famous and by tourists. Where the once wide beach could be walked in solitude even when I first moved to Hawai`i (1990), it is now covered with sun bathers at most hours. The beach has shrunk; sea walls have taken their toll. If you want to avoid the crowds, you have to get there early; my mother-in-law takes her hour long morning swim before 6 a.m. most days. While you can find out on-line that Lanikai means "royal sea," Kailua tells us that its original name was Ka`ōhao. Lanikai, it seems, is the "real estate name," rather like Hawaii Kai on the other side of Makapu`u. This word means "fishing ground," so much of what follows is about fishing, including an interview with Linda Mahoe, married for many years to Solomon Kalapawai Majoe, Jr. who fished the area for decades. (Kalapawai is a name familiar to anyone who buys wine, beer, sandwiches or coffee from the store just off Kailua Road and close to the beach.) Jiro Tanabe's oral history is called, tellingly, "Kailua: When I Knew Where Everybody Lived." The photographs from the early 1900s show us why; there are a few small houses next to the beach, and a road (still there), even a sign (LANIKAI), but little more than that. Now you would see a line of fenced off mansions along the shore, and older single-wall houses farther in, remnants of the pre-discovery days.

The book's last chapter (before the "Afterword") concludes de Silva's retelling of "Ka Makalei A Kawainui"; she acknowledges the "odd choice" of Ka`ōhao as a place to restore and perpetuate Hawaiian sensibilities. True to the history, the story ends before it concludes well; a mystery remains of how to find a missing boy, "reconcile him and his honorable lineage" so that "Kailua will be restored." While de Silva notes that Samuel Keko`owai, who published the mo`ōlelo in 1922, had a target audience of Hawaiians who still spoke Hawaiian and "who were still immersed in their identity and culture," this publication opens that audience up to those who now live in Hawai`i. De Silva makes the stories public to "promote an awareness of the history of this ahupua`a and our individual places in that history." I take the pronoun to be inclusive, her non-translations of Hawaiian word-concepts to be the very boundaries that hold us close. The pronoun "we" is inevitably fragile; that is why it is so worth defending.

Contributors to the book include John Culliney, Carol Silva, Paul Brennan, Maya Saffery, Jane Allen, Diane C. Drigot, Deborah F. Dunn, Sally-Jo Keala-o-Anuenue Bowman, Brett Uprichard, Kihe de Silva, Charles "Doc" Burrows, and others. They range from scholars of Hawaiian culture and language to scientists to linguists to long-time residents of the area. Design by Barbara Pope Book Design. You can order the book here, by following the "purchase information" link. I purchased my copy at Bookends, Kailua.

A side note that is not one: While reading the section on Maunawili by Paul Brennan, I came upon the story of Princess Lili`uokalani's 1881 accident in Maunawili. She was later taken back to Honolulu on the steamer owned by a Waimanalo friend. In 1893 that friend, along with her friends in Maunawili, opposed the overthrow of Queen Liliu`okalani. One friend (John Adams Aolani Kuakini Cummins) was tried for treason in 1895 and plead guilty. His great-great-grandson coaches my daughter's soccer team.

[my son and mother-in-law on Lanikai Beach; behind them are the Mokaluas]

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Routes that Clutch: Circle Island / Circle Blog

The wheels on TheBus go round and round (h/t Ryan Oishi); after launching this blog in January 2009 my fourth post was about a project organized by three UHM alums about TheBus. That project, called Routes, is now out from Kahuaomanoa Press. Made in the format of a bus map, the anthology includes poems, short fiction, journalism, a strip of ads at the top, and a panel called "Route 5: My Seat," where the rider can compose her own poem (or post) as she rides.

At 9:32 a.m. on May 19, 2010 I got on the Circle Island bus (55) at the Kane`ohe Bay Shopping Center across from Windward Mall. The weather was warm, the mountains clear behind the looming mall, the wires, the SUVs. The bus headed away from Kane`ohe along the coast on Kamehameha Highway, or the route that is prettier than Kahekili Highway, on which I commute.

By 9:42 we arrived at the intersection of Kamehameha Highway and what again became Kam Highway. To my right was the gas station and 7-Eleven, and to my left as we turned was the Hygienic Store, whose name was carefully enunciated by the voice of TheBus, Puakea Nogelmeier, a deep resonant voice (even so disseminated). Every so often the Puakea voice would advise riders to "please kokua" or to "watch for suspicious behavior," but mostly it called off the names of the stops.

Chad Blair:
Anyone who has taken O`ahu public transportation in the past five years knows his work: Triggered automatically at every stop, the pre-recorded spots let riders know they've arrived at Kapi`olani Boulevard or Alapa`i Street. As pronounced properly by Nogelmeier, it's Kah-pee-oh-la-need and Ah-la-pah-ee, the `okina--the upside-down apostrophe--requiring a cutting off or ending, a glottal stop.

As we rode toward Kualoa Beach Park, where the island itself turns, I saw many signs protesting development, especially in the Waiahole/Waikane area, known for resistance in the 1970s against the theft of water for leeward side golf courses and such.


At 9:40 we had made the turn to the north, and I noticed the ads above and across from me. There was a Mahalo to Our Sponsors next to an anti-methamphetamine ad (METH WILL CHANGE THAT). I learned that Darryl Valdez is Operator of the Quarter and that he has won a trip to Vegas.

Things I did not know: there's a trout farm at Kahana Bay. There is also bridge construction.


By 10:08 we were passing Hauula Beach park, where a wedding party was assembled, the bride in white dress bright against the turquoise water.

[something about Eminent Domain and YouTube: here!]

At the Polynesian Cultural Center, La`ie, a group of firemen were shooting water from a mighty hose at--what? The sign? The plants in front of the sign? A motorcycle gang, the first of several, had gathered at the La`ie McDonalds. A young white man got on wearing Koss earphones and a black teeshirt that read, "without music life would b flat" (the flat was a flat sign, mind you). He sat in front of me and pulled out a novel whose chapter heading had something to do with ice.

Next to me was a man who got on a bit later, hanging his bike on the front of the bus, whose left arm was tattooed with the word HAWAIIAN. More motorcycles went by, heading south. People were starting to know one another--many handshakes among the guys at the front.


Things I did not know: the circle just past Hale`iwa town is called Weed Circle.

I had a bit of a doze and came to in Wahiawa where a sign in an old restaurant read: SHOCK AND AWE BREAKFAST SPECIAL. Who could resist?

A few more turns and DIVINE PLEASURES / WELCOME HOME TROOPS with an odd mix of buxom blondes and a Pirate theme. AVOCADO PAWN.

Somewhere near Sunset Beach two women got on board and sat behind me. One was older, had grown up in Hawai`i; the second was much younger. The first was in sales, had almost bought a store in Hale`iwa Town; the second was a hair stylist (a "perfectionist," her friend said). They both knew Justin, the older woman from way back, the younger one as his girlfriend. Justin is a good guy, teaches boxing at a camp for kids (the young woman hailed a boy who got on with a "Justin is my boyfriend!" to which the little guy didn't know how to respond). Justin's former girlfriends were all losers. Jamie hated ALL of them. But younger woman doesn't want to talk about the past, even though Justin wants to know about hers: who were they, how old, what did they do for a living? She keeps telling him it just doesn't matter and she trusts him, but he keeps asking. The older woman started talking about Christine, his one ex, who had cheated on him. Christine was not so bad. And there were others the older woman knew. In Mililani Town, younger woman said she did not want to hear about Justin's past. It was over, and besides, they were all LOSERS. The women were going to Chinatown. Justin didn't want her to go anywhere herself. There were a lot of things Justin did not want. "At least he's trying now," said the younger woman with a sigh. He hates guys from the mainland, Justin does. "They're so stoopid." The way he was raised, island-style, by his granddad. "I don't bring it up any more, the mainland."

Gizelle Gajelonia: Deah God, Plz no bless Carissa though cuz I faking hate her! God, I thought she wux my fren. I saw her yesterday making out wit John Boy, my ex-boifren form ninth grade at Sushi Man. I laught though because da mean Korean lady dat works ova dea told me to stop doing dat. But I'm so pissed off! I no can believe she would do dat! Faking slut, I hope she get preggo and den John Boy dump her sorry ass . . .

The bus stopped at Alakea Street at about 1 p.m. I talked the bus driver out of a transfer. I didn't know why, but he looked at me funny. My husband says the transfers last only two hours, and I had told him I started in Kane`ohe, which would have been three hours before. He gave me one anyway. Funny thing, after half an hour off the bus for coffee and relief, I caught the same one over the Pali and back to Kane`ohe.

This time I sat on the left side of the bus, looking into the aisle. An older woman sat next to me, her hair done up (but still disordered), her face done up, wearing a dress. She was Korean, she told me, and her husband Japanese, Irish, Hawaiian, and at the Aloha Care place in Kane`ohe. Did I know where it was? When I said yes, she showed me a bag full of sushi she bought for her husband, and handed me a plastic platter with eight sushi pieces in it. "It was for the bus driver, but if you know where Aloha Care is, you can have it." We both have two children, she and I, and we both lived in northern Virginia. "Oh, people in the country are so much friendlier than people in the city," she said, as everyone on the bus who was not asleep started talking.

Eric Chock:

Tutu standing on the corner--
she look so nice!
Her hair pin up in one bun,
one huge red hibiscus hanging out
over her right ear,
her blue Hawaiian print muumuu
blowing in the wind
as one bus driver blows
one huge cloud of smoke around her,
no wonder her hair so gray!

A straw haired man on the older side of younger across from me reminded me of a colleague of mine, but had perhaps not made it so far. When a young man got on the bus with a boogie board in hand, he was accosted by the first guy, who began talking about his two cars that he had to sell (legal something), how you needed a car to get chicks, something about surf boards, working construction for the military. His talking knew no pause. So many cars on the island now, the population has changed in the 32 years he's been here.

Kai Gaspar:

When she pau school, Aunty Hemolele go Oahu
so she can go college
so she can learn how fo talk hybolic

By the time we got to Kane`ohe and my friend was safely off the bus at Aloha Care, the guy was sitting next to a young woman (she, pinned against the window) and he was grilling her about her studies. She's an English major, she said, staring straight ahead, showing no interest in the man who talked and talked. "You know how I write a five paragraph essay?" he asked. And then he told her. What to put in the first paragraph, the second, and on to the conclusion. Two sisters from Long Island who got on with some special needs kids from Benjamin Parker School sat behind him and his conversational hostage, getting the giggles. Their supervisor, an older white woman, called back, "The bus is a great place to meet people, isn't it?"

Mike Leidemann: TheBus: A metaphor for modern life. Who knew?

Routes is edited by Emelihter Kihleng, Ryan Oishi, and Aiko Yamashiro, and published by Kahuaomanoa Press. Other writers than those quoted include Emelihter Kihleng, Rodney Morales, Lisa Linn Kanae; design by Mark Guillermo. $6. Anyone interested in the anthology should contact

Craig Santos Perez blogged recently on the press, here.

Jill Yamasawa's Aftermath will be published soon by them, as well. Also an early blog entry for me.

[note: not all diacriticals are in place: blame blogger!]

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"A little derivative, / but what isn't, these days?" John Beer and Gizelle Gajelonia Rewrite _The Waste Land_

Too easily forgotten amid the many spilled words over T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land is the fact that the waste land was and is a place. The city, by way of Baudelaire, may be "unreal," but it is also London, as is its Thames river of voices, from Cockney to the Queen's English. The place the poem keeps is also significant; it has grown streets and suburbs and exurbs by now in the voices of poets who went to school, literally, to the poem. So perhaps it's no surprise that two new volumes of poetry take The Waste Land as their place, namely John Beer's The Waste Land and Other Poems (ring a bell, anyone?) from Canarium Press and Gizelle Gajelonia's otherwise Stevensianly titled, Thirteen Ways of Looking at TheBus from Tinfish Press. Eliot left St. Louis for the metropolis of London; Beer and Gajelonia pull him back to us (if I may call us us)--Beer to Chicago, Gajelonia to Honolulu. Where Beer retains Eliot's title, Gajelonia calls her poem, "He Do Da Kine in Different Voices," after Eliot's original "He Do the Police in Different Voices."

"Save Now," my blogger helper advises in blue, right next to TheBus orange "Publish Post" button. Why now? Why re-publish The Waste Land in these different voices? Are we so far on the other side of post-modernism or Language writing or post-Language writing or new new new formalism that we can now reconsider and transpose the 20th century's great poem (or one of them) into new voices? Let us say so. And hypothesize that what we term "derivative"--in this era of derivatives (you read it, so I don't have to)--may be the new new. Make it new, Eliot's miglior fabbro, Old Ez, ordained. To that, Beer's Spicer responds, "Someone's got it in for me" and earns the moniker of "the fabber craftsman," a mixed homophonic and ordinary translation of Eliot. To be derivative is to translate, and to translate is to recreate one place in another place.

Hence Beer's setting of the first section of the poem, namely Eliot's "The Burial of the Dead," as "The Funeral March (Chicago and Orleans)." Orleans is already a wonderful playful place. Does he mean New Orleans, from which Chicago got its music, by way of the river, Mississippi, and the train tracks that threaded their way north, through St. Louis, at about the time its exile Eliot was writing about London? Does he mean a city in France? Does he mean a band that sort of flourished in the 1970s (remember "Still the One"?) I hope not. Does he refer to the Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, a place nearly as full of simulacra as his poem? Read the first section of the poem and you cannot be certain of Orleans, nor even of Chicago, despite the Heartland Cafe, where the speaker is to meet his younger brother Stetson, he of the corpse planted in Eliot's garden.

But the place in Beer's poem that is most a place is (ironically?) called "V. Death to Poetry," where Orpheus awakens to find himself not in hell so much as in the poem about hell. "Orpheus awoke in the poem of disguises, the poem once called 'The Waste Land.' Friends, listen up. He gathered the remnants of the life he had dreamed. He renounced the burden of the name he bore. He began to walk." Where does he walk? Chicago: "down Milwaukee Avenue toward the Flatiron Building." Along the way he passes a catalogue of immigrants and musicians, students, teachers, cops. The world is clearly ending, as SUVs are burning: "the asphalt ran liquid and Orpheus saw the dissolving sky and he knew that the name of the poem he had entered could not be 'The Waste Land' . . . This is the death of the poet." While this section of the poem isn't broadly parodic; it's too damn serious (and exhausted) for that, it takes a funny turn when Beer turns not to shoring fragments against his ruin, but instead footnotes. Here what had followed the text as a kind of self-parody is brought into the text as broad parody as "These footnotes I have shored against my ruins . . . / no longer the mirror, no longer the poem"[.] The narrator proclaims himself not-Orpheus and declares that the city he is in is called "Barnes and Noble" (which is where you will find it). The poem's "ruse" is abandoned, and the buildings begin to sing a song of kissing and of never getting up. The end.

Gizelle Gajelonia's "He Do Da Kine in Different Voices" is at once closer to the original (she follows its plot more closely) and farther away from it (as Honolulu is from London). Where Beer's poem takes place in Chicago and the USA more generically ("THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING AT BORDERS. / WE WILL BE CLOSING IN FIFTEEN MINUTES" could be anywhere), Gajelonia's poem has as its speaker Queen Liliuo`kalani, the Hawaiian Kingdom's last queen, deposed in 1893 by a gang of American businessmen. She is at once the Marie who must hold on tight (the rich girl of Eliot's opening) and a prisoner surrounded by the ruins of her kingdom, wondering how to set her lands in order at the end. She is trapped inside a canon of European and American poetry, wanting out. And she is also trapped, like us, inside the contemporary Hawai`i of tourist land and reality television:

Real Unreal City
Under the gray vog of a winterless dawn,
A crowd flowed over Waikiki Beach, so many,
I had always thought Hawai`i had fucked so many.
The mindless pimps, with their eyes fixed on the Other,
Walked up the strip and down King Kalakaua Street,
To where Dog the Bounty Hunger kept the city safe
With prayer, Beth's breasts, and pepper spray.

Where Beer lards the old poem with contemporary references and slang, Gajelonia takes Eliot's cockney and replaces it with Hawaiian Creole English, or Pidgin, which Lisa Linn Kanae and others have termed a "language of resistance" to Standard English and all it represents. The bar conversation in Eliot's "The Game of Chess" about how Albert is demobbed and Lil has an abortion becomes, in Gajelonia's poem:

I said, what, you no feel shame fucking around?
But she was like, whatevaz Honey Girl, Kimo fucked
Around with so many sluts, I had sex with
Junior Boy because I needed
Money to buy school supplies for the kids, because
Kimo is a good-for-nothing-son-of-a-bitch.

But Gajelonia's waste land returns to Hawai`i's queen, where in section V. she asserts that she is "the constitutional ruler of my people." The final words in Gajelonia's version of the poem belong to Queen Liliuo`kalani:

I sat on my bed
Thinking, with my people behind me,
Shall I sign the proposition handed to me?
The monarchy is falling down falling down falling down
O ka halia`loha i hiki mai,
Ke hone ae nei ku`u manawa.
O oe no ka`u ipon aloha,
A lo ko e hana nei.

It is for them that I would give th last drop of my blood;
It is for them that I would spend everything belonging to me.
Aloha `oe, aloha `oe, aloha `oe.

If you want to read the lyrics to Queen Liliuo`kalani's "Aloha Oe," you can read them here, and you can make them your ringtone. There's something horrible about that, which I can't put my finger on. But I do love the posthumous rendition of the song by Johnny Cash, which follows an ad for "Sins of the Father." No comment. Gajelonia's Queen does not speak the Queen's English; her song is in `oiwi, or Hawaiian, that has only since the 1970s been reborn.

These new waste lands are sometimes parodic, often terribly funny. But they are more than parody, pastiche, or humor at the expense of the Anglophone Eliot. It was Eliot who inspired Kamau Brathwaite's interest in nation language through his performance of The Waste Land in the 1950s, by which time he was mocking his own work, sounding more like a tuba than like a bard. It is that Eliot who inspired Gajelonia's rendering of his poem as the history of Hawai`i. And Eliot's ragtime is probably responsible for Beer's importation of the King of Pop into his version of the poem: "Buskers / danced in supplication of the shadows, / mirroring the disgraced King of Pop. / White noise announced the train. Orpheus wept." If Orpheus is made to weep, then we should be grateful for his tears. These two renditions of Eliot are, if not improvements on the classic, then worthy covers (and re-upholsterings) of it. The poem has been re-newed. Derive contains within itself both the word "riven," or "to break apart," but also the word "la rive," or river bank, shore. Shored against its ruins, Eliot's poem washes up against a new bank. There are too many puns to attend to there, you know. So I'm off on my bark until next time.

[The title of this post comes from John Beer]

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Odd Doc Tuesday: Charles Bernstein meets the DOE Ethnicity Information Form

This form came home with my daughter yesterday after I got a call from the school's counselor, a man with a lovely Irish brogue (he would be an L on the form). As you can see if you click on the document, Radhika's parents (both Ls) had listed her as "Other" in the ethnicity category of a previous document. The school informs us that "Other" is no longer a category (would that this were true!). So we were asked to provide a more appropriate label for her. Mr. Ellis read all of these categories to me over the phone; the only one that applied was (R) "Other Asian." How much more specific that is than "Other" is hard to say, but her Nepalese heritage has no place on the form, so she becomes an (R). Her name is Radhika, so I guess that's appropriate. She is a bit jealous of her brother, Sangha, however, who has a category, (N), or Indo Chinese (Ex. Cambodian, Vietnamese, Laotian). Far be it from me to tell the composers of such documents that the Cambodians and the Vietnamese are traditional enemies, and that Cambodians are mostly of mixed races, Khmer, Chinese, and others. For purposes of the form, they exist as (N).

I was reminded of a poem included in Charles Bernstein's new book from Farrar, Straus & Giroux, All The Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems. The poem is "In Particular" and was originally published in a beautiful chapbook by Chax Press, Let's Just Say. Written as a list, the poem catalogues people by their ethnicity (or a feature like dyslexia or addiction) and has them do something; it's very much an update of Walt Whitman's section 15 of Song of Myself, a poem that aims to envelope Americans in the bard's long arms, bring closer President and prostitute. You can click on a site oddly called "Infoplease" to see that poem, here. The poem begins this way:

The pure contralto sings in the organ loft,
The carpenter dresses his plank, the tongue of his foreplane
whistles its wild ascending lisp,
The married and unmarried children ride home to their Thanksgiving dinner,
The pilot seizes the king-pin, he heaves down with a strong arm,
The mate stands braced in the whale-boat, lance and harpoon are ready,
The duck-shooter walks by silent and cautious stretches,
The deacons are ordain'd with cross'd hands at the altar,
The spinning-girl retreats and advances to the hum of the big wheel,
The farmer stops by the bars as he walks on a First-day loafe and
looks at the oats and rye,
The lunatic is carried at last to the asylum a confirm'd case,
(He will never sleep any more as he did in the cot in his mother's

and it ends this way:

And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am,
And of these one and all I weave the song of myself.

The inward and outward are one, like Stevens's dog and dachsund, because the poet is large enough to encompass them. Bernstein's poem has less poet and more particularity sans commentary. Here are the first two pages of the four and a half page piece.

There's humor here to deflect what now seems grandiosity on Whitman's part: the mixing of ethnic markers with ethnic activities undermines the notion of category, even as the poem runs solely on the principle of category. Hence the Afghanistani who eats pastrami and Filipino eating a potato and a Buddhist financier and an Armenian rowing to the typo of Amenia. [Editor's note: it's not a typo, but a town in New York State.] Bernstein's "conclusion" resembles Whitman's, in that he brings groups together, but his means of doing it leaves the poet out of it, except as a gatherer and randomizer of categories. So the first two lines of the poem: "A black man waiting at a bus stop / A white woman sitting on a stool" are also the poem's last two lines, but inverted in terms of gender: "A white man sitting on a stool / A black woman waiting at a bus stop." Not all boundaries have (or can?) be crossed, but Bernstein suggests that some can be, sometimes.

But back to Radhika's school form, sent to us by "The Federals," as they are termed, by way of her public elementary school. We can surmise from the fact that "'Other' is no longer a category" that categories do sometimes shift. That they spring back, stronger than ever, we glean from the plea for "your help" in finding "the category they now wish you to choose." There's humor in this letter, too, just peaking through the bureaucratic prose. It belongs to the Irishman (L) who composed it. Is his humor Jewish? Or is Bernstein's Irish?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Odd Doc Monday: Hawai`i in the Alzheimer's Home

Last Wednesday I blogged on this month's calendar at my mother's Alzheimer's home. On the 20th of May, residents will experience Hawaiian culture, and on the next day, they will remember Christopher Columbus. (Irony is perhaps the trope in writing about Alzheimer's.) Today I got an invitation to a Mother's Day celebration on the 20th, a Hawaiian Luau that will feature "Hawaiian & Polynesian Entertainment." Too bad that I'm not arriving in Virginia until later in May! The flyer alone presents us with the pineapple and the plumeria, both signifiers of Hawai`i on the east coast. I would be interested to see and hear the program itself. For now, I present this odd doc as part of my mother's story, and the culture of the Alzheimer's home. That culture is proudly, even necessarily, simulacrous. It could not possibly be real because it is never perceived as part of the reality from which it comes. History's witnesses cannot remember what they saw. Is a history without witness still a history? That's a question I do not want to touch, at least for now. I'll think more about it on this coming trip.

Friday, May 7, 2010

More Final Project Wonders, Spring 2010

Blogger is less hungry this morning, allows me to post more pictures of student projects for this semester. Those on the left are by graduate students Lyz Soto, Jaimie Gusman and Davin Kubota (the latter being an auditor/free loader, visitation from a past life in the 1990s!). Lyz Soto, whose book Eulogies was published by Tinfish Press earlier in the year, composed an "Accretion Disk," based on her propensity to rewrite a single poem until it expands into book form. In this case, a short lyric about the sun morphed into a long sequence of meditations on being mother to a son. Lyz performed her usual operations on her own text, "translating" it repeatedly, and also including equations. Real ones, the mathematical kind. Jaimie Gusman wrote a sequence about the Anyjar, which I like to think of as a proud descendant of Wallace Stevens's Tennessee jar. This jar is a universal container into which the poet stashes feelings (there's an elegy, or three in here), memories (there's a love story), and includes Jaimie's usual whimsical and yet incisive wordplay. Davin's chapbook is funnier; he puts on traditions like clothes. He also did a "newspaper" about poetry, in which he included his own Hart Cranian elegy of a dog amid a page of shtick. Effective, odd, juxtapositions are his mode. He could give Lee Cataluna a run for her money.

Yesterday, I posted a photograph of No`u Revilla's chapbook; here's another. She calls her "press" Filipino Broom because those brooms require so much work to perform the art of sweeping. (Her description brought back the vivid image of old Russian women sweeping the sidewalks of Moscow, circa 1981, and my father's eyes bright with feeling that they should not have to do so.) No`u's work has a lot of sexuality in it, but always at the service (wrong word!) of ideas about the world, whether about young girls discovering their sexuality, the `aina, or larger issues in relationships between lovers.

Here are three more chapbooks from English 713, left to right, Peter Forman's "Boarding Pass: Trans-Perception Airways," made AS a boarding pass; Marcus Au Young's "Image Not Found," and Aiko Yamashiro's "notes toward a love poem."

Aiko's poems "toward love" or her love "toward a poem" graft themselves onto song lyrics, then move off into the world of the hospital where her grandfather had surgery on his heart valve. The word "valve" then takes off (not a stone, as in Dickinson) and merges into other things (sinks, faucets) and voices (her grandfather's stream-of-consciousness life story, that starts and stops as the poet wills it). Marcus's deck of cards includes the concrete poem seen here, where "settlers" and "natives" cover the island of O`ahu in arbitrary binary fashion. Peter Forman, a former TWA pilot, is a local authority on the airline industry. His chapbook contains multi-layered narrative poems about his travels. The strongest, to my mind, is a poem about Kiribati (where my husband spent two years in the Peace Corps). In that poem he layers a personal narrative with the colonial history of the place and the subsequent ecological disasters there.

Amalia Bueno, like Davin Kubota, was a freeloader. But oh to have such auditors always! Her chapbook for 411 (Poetry of Place workshop) is a wide-ranging piece, featuring poems about her own locations (the Philippines, Waipahu and "upper Waipahu," which is what she calls Waikele,). Amalia's work is kinetic, funny, wise slapstick. She write da kine, too.

There were many other wonderful projects between the two classes. One student, Kate Stilwell, who is teaching for Teach for America, made her own paper (but left me with the xeroxed version of her book, alas); Moriah Amey made enormous sheets out of card stock, which feature photographs on which she has applied her poems; Nicole Manuel's chapbook is as understated as she is not, a lovely meditation on motherhood and direction (of various kinds) off Pensacola Street in Makiki. Nicole appreciated Bernadette Mayer's Midwinter Day in a way few of my students have. Her chapbook begins, "Stately." Homage to Mayer's homage to Joyce, indeed.

Craig Perez was a surprise guest to our last class of English 411. Here's a photograph of him reading a poem about Spam. (That's a fiction; this is a photo of him, and he read a poem about Spam.) The class had read his first book, from unincorporated territory [hacha]. He was overheard telling another visitor that this was "the craziest class he'd ever been to."

Thanks to everyone in both classes for making this such a rewarding semester, especially in light of the budget cuts, faculty losses, falling down building, uncollegiality by some, and the other downers that make one question one's desire to pursue this "life of the mind." Mind is pleased.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Harvest Time: Chapbooks & Other Marvels, or, Why I So Love My Students

This is the last week of classes, so I'm harvesting chapbooks (and variations on them). Each of my students in English 411 (poetry workshop with emphasis on place) and English 713 (poetry workshop) made a final project in which she or he put a statement of poetics, a selection of original poems, and whatever exercises the poet wished. The undergraduates did exercises off of Bernadette Mayer's famous list. The grad students worked and reworked, translated and changed the form of a single poem they'd chosen to work on at the beginning of the semester; among these poems were pieces by Gertrude Stein, Louise Gluck, and other poets.

At the left you see a handmade book by No`u Revilla. I will try to upload another photo of her book--and others--later, but blogger is not being kind to me this morning. Blogger is eating photographs of poem books.

Now sitting at our window is a tree-poem project by Julie Tanji. She asked me not to water it.

This topographical map of Honolulu, with accompanying poems (on paper dipped in tea) is by Marissa Chung. It folds up as a large box, which you can then tie shut with a red ribbon.

Allegra Wilson had made her book in January and spent the semester writing poems that would fill it. Allegra's poetics statement was about the difficulties of being an outsider in Hawai`i; many of her poems were about Los Angeles, where she feels more "at home."

Quala-Lynn Young, who works at The Contemporary Museum, wrote a chapbook about her neighborhood in Kaimuki. Here it is, next to Julie's project by the window, just past the sleeping cat, Tortilla. You can see her neighbors' houses in the accordian book's shapes; each house contains a poem on the top, and a different kind of narrative at the bottom of the page. For example, the poem "Bobby," about an old man who "speaks in spells / of foreign words wrapped in plastic" has as its "foundation," these lines: "The house with dementia sleeps a lot. / The old house has a therapy dog."

--"To get to Makiki, / lower your standards." (Nicole Manuel)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Odd Doc Wednesday

As a rule, my mother does not attend community events at her Alzheimer's home any more, but for two or three years she spent most of her time in the activities room. She didn't sing when the others sang; she didn't respond when they spoke; she didn't do much except sit. She was the still point in a universe askew. (I've written about that room elsewhere, here and then here.) But I still get calendars of events each month to let me know what she might be doing were she not now sitting in a smaller common room all day every day, where the television disgorges old movies and her peers snooze and/or sundown together.

While Alzheimer's residents like my mother are hidden away in their homes, the histories they lived were public. Each of these monthly programs presents a section of their histories; patch a few months together, and you might have a social, political, and cultural history of the USA in the mid-20th century, along with points of reference learned in schools early in the last century-- Florence Nightingale is an example of this. One of the categories of days belongs to famous people. May's calendar features musicians like Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin; politicians like Harry S Truman (they got the S with no period correct!) and JFK (along with Jackie Kennedy Onassis); entertainers like John Wayne, Sugar Ray Leonard, Gary Cooper, and Mickey Mouse. (My mother always referred to him as "Mickey le souris," because she'd spent time in France where Mickey is much loved.) There is some evidence that the United States contains diverse cultures--after all, today's events center on Cinco de Mayo and feature Mexican food--but for the most part this is an older America, one that lives in the memories of those who can remember it. Or an America that is being used to prod, cajole, nudge the missing memories of the residents of this Alzheimer's home. "The lost America of love," one might call it.

But then there is Hawaiian Luau day on the 20th of the month, which features a 1:15 event I would love to experience, namely, "History and culture of Hawaii," sandwiched (sorry) between "Trivia Question" and 3 p.m.'s "Hula Dance." That the day after "Hawaiian Luau" is "The Discovery of America" is an irony probably lost on the planners of events, but suffice it to say that the neighborhood of the 20th and the 21st of May looks a bit fractious from my Kane`ohe perch. At the same time (1:15) as the residents learn about Hawaiian culture on the 20th, they learn about Christopher Columbus on the 21st. I'll wager no one tells them that the state of Hawai`i no longer celebrates Discoverers' Day, let alone the Columbus Day of my childhood.

Hawai`i fits into this patchword (that's a typo, but I'll keep it) history not simply because many of the residents likely vacationed here, but also because these residents are part of the "greatest generation." They would not only have remembered Pearl Harbor, but some of them would have lived it in Pearl Harbor. (My mother remembers hearing about Pearl Harbor and wondering where it was . . .) When they reminisced--when my mother reminisced--it was often about The War. I always understood this to mean World War II, even when we were living through the Vietnam War, which came after the Korean War. Even now, The War means that to me, and so many wars have come since. I grew up on her stories about The War, the battles she witnessed in Italy; the bombing raid she got caught up in (in north Africa), which landed her in a ditch; the soldiers and pilot she knew who were killed; the pilot whose life was changed when he witnessed a little girl running in terror from bombs; the nearly Catch-22ian events she recounted vividly over dinner or to friends. Whether it was the pilot who told his girlfriend that if she did not marry him, he would go out on a mission and not come back and who did not come back; or the soldier who asked mom to marry him until she pulled a minister in on the joke and demanded to be married at once, thus silencing the guy, who ran the other way; or the truck she drove, in which she once feared she'd hit a child; or the time she (unschooled in French Revolutionary history) asked where the Bastille was . . . these stories have stuck in my memory, as hers has downloaded to a blank drive. (That's a metaphor she would have never used.)

The calendar, like the alphabet, organizes memory, but does so in a way that also scrambles it. If B must follow A on a book shelf, then the events of the 21st of May necessarily follow those of the 20th of May. The calendar may be lived as history, but it is performed (as in the Alzheimer's home) as scattered chapters ("livid hieroglyph," oh Hart!) in a public history that comes apart. "At Melville's Tomb" is its tune. What has washed up are fragments of memory's bones, and the Alzheimer's residents are left to wander in and around them. In a sense, they seem put there to be re-collected into new histories that combine the lives of residents with those of their era. While "trivia" plays a large role in their activities, the calendar is far from trivial as a document. I must remember to pay each month's schedule more heed.

[click on images to make them bigger]