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.


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.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Grief time

"An altered state time, deserving of gentleness" (Ellen). My mother-in-law and I watch television: part of a documentary on Woodstock, some news, a bit of the pre-season football game at Aloha Stadium. I ask if she's interested in it, and she says nothing is of interest.

My daughter is sweeping broken glass from her new dorm room floor. We witness the green broom-handle on Facetime.

The New York Times book section tells me the personal essay is dead; the personal and the political have been wrenched too far apart. We are who we construct on the internet, the selves that we don't recognize when they're described to us. Wisdom is nothing that is surface, like a screen we know to be flat, except when moving pictures offer us false perspective. The car in an old film moves across the painting of a landscape and gets nowhere except closer to the end of a story.

The Stoics couldn't anticipate the end of introspection, or its quickening. Nor could they foretell social media's flattening of self into photograph and caption. Or the man insulted by the president for being fat, who says he loves the president, "the best thing ever to happen to our country." The proud boys in a Portland park initiate a new member by punching him with bare fists until he falls and then applaud their own good work. "Don't blame us for creating civilization," one chants.

Meaning decamps. Wisdom is some consolation, but we know it already. Death is still mystery, no matter how many books you read. My father-in-law's car trunk stinks of sunscreen; there's a box with some rope in it, a couple of dog leashes, two walking sticks. The last hike was taken, probably up the jagged side of Makapu`u where he'd recently seen a couple making love and dragged his barking dogs away.

He said he was dizzy in his wheelchair, even as we took him home. In the lobby, he weighed himself, found he hadn't lost weight despite the hospital food. His wife bought the new meds. Baby aspirin. He walked up the steps at home, both hands on the rails, refusing my arm. He walked up the steps and into the house and I turned to drive away.

My daughter has finished sweeping up the broken glass from the bulbs she hung on a string that fell in the night. She's alone in her new dorm. The soccer girls told her Ted Bundy had gone to their college for a semester. She says she's bored. B. advises her to get pen and paper and to draw something for the blank walls, beside her new and artificial plants.

Stephen Colbert says if we are grateful for this life, we suffer our losses. He tells this to Anderson Cooper, whose brother died by suicide. He says this the week Jeffrey Epstein killed himself, if indeed he killed himself, and no one suffered for anything but his having lived.

The thrush screams when I walk my dog. Roosters call from the gully behind our townhouse. Sirens stream down Kahekili on a Sunday morning. I read Seneca's Letters from a Stoic, awaiting the news of a dear friend's death.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

American Anger

The white man who hates millennials, thinks that Hillary "is the corrupt one" (while claiming not to like Trump), and who walks the small, fluffy one-eyed dog named Rosie, crossed the street before Lilith and I got to him. I was walking toward Hui Iwa Street and he turned to walk in parallel. And then the yelling began, not from the corner this time, but from at least 50 feet away. "That's a stop sign! JACKASS!" he yelled at a woman in a blue Smartcar, who had turned right onto Hui Kelu. I considered suggesting that yelling doesn't help, but thought better of it. When Lilith and I got back closer to home, the man with two fluffy white dogs, Mochi and Manju, told me he and his family were almost killed at that intersection by a speeding, swerving, Acura. "And I could tell you which woman always runs that stop sign," he added.

Border Walmart

The girl who runs looks before she crosses the road, but never makes eye contact. I run out of ideas the way I run out of my shoes, or Lilith out of her harness when she spots chickens. As I turned the corner to the dumpster, bag of her poop in my hand, a hen propelled herself toward us, orange-flecked wings out, screaming.

The soldier behind Trump in El Paso cried on television for the children he could not save. Trump calls him a hero ("thank you, sir"), says next he'll be a movie star ("thank you, sir").

"They're just words to him," the mayor of Dayton says. "He says them." The teleprompter reads "Texas and Ohio," so he says "Toledo."

A baby's hand was broken; his mother, who pushed him to the floor, was dead; his father, who pushed himself on top of the mother, died later in the hospital where Trump announced the body count from his rally, which was greater than Beto's, he said.

We count the dead not as consolation but in order to do something. Pencil marks on a doorjamb measure a child's progress, and then its end. To count is to mark time, to play the song with seven beats, to empty the mind of its grasping. To count is to make piles of information, like piles of shoes after a massacre. To count is somehow to make sense; but sense is so much more abstract than blood.

We see the Walmart worker from the back; the camera's focus is on the local politician. He breaks down, says he wishes he could have saved his customers. The politician asks if he's seen a counselor, offers him his card. He can connect him to services. Only connect.

Small children stand weeping in a road in Mississippi. While they were at school on the first day, their parents were arrested by ICE. Neighbors and local residents have ushered them into a gymnasium and brought them food they are unable to eat. They are still distraught, the newspaper says.

It's the old healing process. Let's sing about it in a round until we're numb with singing. George Harrison chanted for three days while driving through France, arriving at bliss. When he died, the entire room lit up, his widow says. The song empties us out, but we have to keep singing, or it comes back to us, the gunfire and consumer goods careening from the shelves, the screams and the running feet. He was right next to her, very calm. He threw bottles at the shooter, diverting him for a moment until the shooter trained his weapon on him. It was like a grenade went off in the middle of his back. He would trade his life for that of the girl he saw dead on the Walmart floor. Even the family pedophile would have done as much for his granddaughter

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Terror and shoes

I saw this photograph from Dayton, and was reminded of a poem from Memory Cards: Simone Weil Series (Equipage).

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The man with the one-eyed dog

As Lilith and I turned right on Hui Kelu Street, I saw the white man with the one-eyed dog named Rosie across the street. He had told me once that he was a "radical centrist," that he couldn't stand millennials, and that "Hillary was the corrupt one" back before we stopped talking much. We waved at each other from opposite sides of the street. A minute later, the yelling started. I turned to look back; he was standing at the corner screaming "No stop! no stop!" to the traffic, as it drifted through the stop sign. His hands were flung up in angry despair. Dear Reader, I considered going back to the corner. It would have been a good Lilith story. We kept going.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Histories of ordinary pain

Lilith and I turn right at Kahekili Highway, start up the asphalt path toward the cemetery (where a billboard advertises 20% off burial plots). Yesterday evening four boys stood by the road holding state flags upside down and a sovereignty flag right side up, serenaded by honks from traffic. This morning I turn at Ahuimanu Park to look at the Ko`olau when I see a woman beneath a tree. Her hair a bright dyed red, she sits cross-legged on the grass, holding a pillow and a blanket. She looks away from me. I approach the chain link fence, ask her if she's ok. She nods. I ask if she's sure.

On our way back, the woman is gone. She's not under the tree or at the restroom building or behind the baseball back stop; she's not anywhere I can see.

The tree trimmers are back with their cherry picker and their shredder. The man with bad knees hobbles beneath a younger man in the basket, who uses a machete on a pole to cut smaller branches off the monkey pod, standing back to measure the tree's shape. The older man picks up branches and sets them in the street behind orange cones.

A history of ordinary pain. When, from the bus, we saw old women sweep the streets in Moscow, bent over because their brooms were too short, my father cried.

Trump revels in the burglary at Rep. Cummings's house before his first racist tweet. She says she performs "mom" in the classroom, pulling off her glasses, telling students their work was shitty, but she loves them. Says her young daughter turned away from her at the restaurant and talked to the people in the booth behind them. That's one performative family, I say. She moves her body from one side of the hallway to another, speaks in joyful bursts. Trump's is a terrible, a mutant joy. His crowd laughs. Outside the building, a young Trump supporter punches an older protester in the mouth; he crumples to the ground. At least they're both white, eh?

Protesters bring a cloth mock-up of a cage; they carry it, chant something about immigrants making America. Noise cascades around them. A hand appears before the camera, its third finger stuck in the air. Something for your poetry?

I am worrying these moments as if they were beads, or threads from an old sweater. I worry them until they resemble the boy's blue bike abandoned by the road, next to a can of pumpkin and a can of cranberry sauce; its back tire is black and firm, but the front is white, shredded, soft to the touch. To worry is to lose value, wear away the word until it feathers. See the mountains behind the red-haired woman, the white chapel behind the billboard advertising a less expensive death. Watch for the curl of the dead palm frond as it bows to the palm's trunk.

That's the lyric conclusion. Trying to find that space above the hurtful detail, trying to hover like the yellow helicopter over our house, trying to save someone on the mountain and sometimes succeeding. The documentary conclusion is to set them up like a row of green plastic soldiers and see them as many, one. It's not the unity we dream of it, but the sameness of it offers some consolation.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The snap

The gay vet tech wears a blue uniform; his graying hair is buzz cut, his beard short. Above his right elbow, tattoo of an anchor, and on the inside of his right arm--I see it as he reaches down to give Lilith a treat--is written, "This too shall pass." I say the words out loud.

"How does it help?" I ask. "Places," he responds. "Which places?" "Places."

The older man coming toward me is on the landscape crew. He wears a neon yellow vest, noise-blocking headphones, dark pants with knee pads. His legs are bent outward; he walks awkwardly, trying to avoid his knees, his ankles, his feet. I ask if they're about to cut a tree down. He responds, "trimming," but I cannot place his accent, or the word.

Tee dreams her apartment is filling with bugs. It's Trump, she says. B dreams he's in a mass shooting, the day before a shooting, which is also the day after. Our son's anger fills the house in the morning, but he's calm in the evening. Trump is the stick the gorilla pushes into an ant-hill; we come apart in armies. Sara Ahmed writes about the willful girl's arm, the one that pokes through the ground even after she's buried. Until the rod returns and mows it down.

I was in love with small violet flowers in a vacant part of the woods; I wanted to pull them out and plant them nearer me. Instead, I walked there day after day, having no idea why they so drew me, why I wanted to have them, nurse their violet. Beauty counters violence, except when it best describes it. Ocean Vuong crafts beautiful sentences of that shattering. Our cat knocked another cup off the counter--there's a lizard that lives on the other side of our kitchen screen--anger's company.

The moment of snap, Ahmed calls it, when history catches up to us and our filters fail. Moments in the blue bus rising and falling with the land's waves. Moments by a lake, in a tub, behind the mirror, at a church, with a friend (now dead) who simply came to sit. Moments embracing another's wave and another's, on a bed or at the counter. The way R sits with her brother when he hurts.

Another's snap scares us. So much need in the snap, so much lashing out or lashing in. Lashed to the masts, we witness the storm as it enters us through our skin. To witness is to see oneself as alien, apart from the snap even as we are in it. Lilith quivered at the vet, fear mitigated by little bone-shaped treats. We noticed her fear, but couldn't replace it with ease.

When I snapped it was not I that broke, but the world. Constant inner narration cracked in pieces; I could no longer read the passengers on the bus, leaning over to tie their shoes, nor could I sort out cause and effect. It was all loud noise and then silence, the busy-ness of insects, without their careful plans.

"You don't like beauty, do you?" my mother said, when I drifted off at the arboretum. I associated it with pain.

The intensity of youth is of stark emotions, all of them strong. The emotions don't abate, they simply mix, like paints, into what appears to be pastel but is the splash of loud colors consuming themselves until they grow light.

No gap between what we see and what we are. When others doubt me, I doubt myself, he said. Build that wall, but keep it moist, let flowers climb it and jump down. Asylum is a legal right.