Friday, May 31, 2024

A first attempt at elegy


White ginger bowing

1. One comes in order of remembrance, not queen of the memories but its pawn, setting out first on a board, intrepid, fragile. You came to the airport to give me The Tibetan Book of the Dead when I left for my mother’s dying. On day six of your death, I can't find it.

2. To remember death as first principle seems unfair. Call up the midst, the in-between, everyday bardos of being losing itself to being other. Your Manoa cottage fronted a frothy stream populated by orator frogs.

3. I remember when you died, not when you were born. You are on track to appear again, unknown to us. There will be flowers and books and dental surgeries, just like before time, crazy wisdom where wind meets the stream’s song, dentist’s drill screeching like a myna.

4. Your desk was neat, yet you arranged it tirelessly. You were inclined to great drama, and to saying farewell to performance. How many times did you say farewell?

5. You might be born again, but who will recognize the bird or frog, the dragonfly or the snapping turtle?

6. You called me in the very early a.m. as Bryant and I crossed Kansas on a train. You’d taken our car to Kaimuki and parked it in a structure. When you returned, the engine started, so you rolled the windows down. The car would not start. Bryant tried instructions from the top bunk. There was towing and there were ubers. We came home to a white Prius whose windows were black trash bags. A neighbor told me you and Lilith would stand on the sidewalk, staring at one another. You wouldn’t force her to do what she didn’t want to do. One to another stubborn kindness. No negotiations!

7. You always came late to meetings. You were too busy writing haiku about them, I suspect. “why do they call it / ‘meeting,’ when we leave feeling / ragged miles apart?”

8. We invited the young man to tea. You asked him to come early, so you could be aunty. We told him not to be divisive; the community is so small. He said he’d stop. Months later, old posts got regurgitated: dead cigarette mouths, haoles. Aversion to any who did not worship, or agree with him. Exhibit A.

9. There were always prayer beads and incense. I wish I could have told you of the rhythmical beat of “invoice, entry, check”: the 34 counts. We might have marched down a corridor to that mantra. Invoice. Entry. Check. Put it to music and sing it at a meeting.

10. “Away from the toxic stew of colonial isolation,” straight into another, cloaked by constant construction and glitz. You kept talking about the murder of one of our students by her husband. A colonial symptom, you said, unable to prescribe a cure. That was murder and suicide, though the police couldn’t hammer it down, called it double suicide. Under the Volcano explained the colonial darkness, you would say.

11. Hammer. My high school classmate was killed with a hammer by her boyfriend. He was so quickly forgiven; after all, he confessed to his priest. Book title: The Killing of Bonnie Garland, as if she were merely the object of that awful noun. I’d taken her place at a concert because she was afraid of going first. She played the flute. Sina, you loved the breath.

12. Several days before your death, I checked out Rushdie’s Knife. It came in large print. How it feels to have been attacked by someone wielding a knife. How it feels to survive. Hammer and knife killed you. Police say there was an argument. You who worked so hard at right speech. If only the murderer survives, whom can you trust to tell the story except the dead?

13. We intended to stage a performance of workplace violence (emotional). We’d make it funny, maybe wear masks (pre-covid). We’d choreograph the paths of avoidance we took in the hall, then dance them to our colleagues. Walking paths would be dances would be poems.

14. “I need to talk to you about our beloved Sina,” wrote Selina. Facebook video put a yellow cat avatar over my face, which I x’ed out with difficulty. Selina, who drove across Waiheke Island in a car bursting with us poets, belted out Barry Manilow (could it have been??). We laughed before she told me.

15. You were killed in a theater, where only you and the killer performed. Spectators came later, but no one has the audio. This is the only secret left on earth. As it is in heaven, forgive us our trespass. Om mane pame hung.

--for Sina

(the title is the last line of her book, Alchemies of Distance, 2001)

Monday, May 27, 2024

27 May 2024


 I was with the girl pulled from the rubble   covered

in dust   shaking aftermath of hurricane without wind

and she was with me in my bed when half-awake

my powerlessness failed to shelter me like a sheet

I was powerless to feel powerless   afflicted by her

terror I reached to hug her and did    for the rest

of the night hold her body to my body    the teacher

said each of the tears she cried for her dead son

saved thousands of souls she’d never known  

despite the terror of five hours under broken cement

without parent or sibling    tears come between

her and her broken bed    water streaming down stairs

at the ballpark   waterfalls engorged after a week of rain

the sound of it to her was voices or nothing

the sound of bones inside her arms clattering

something to keep her awake in my bed with husband

and cat and dog (were we to let her) a safe puddle

to bathe in   my daughter’s first bath with me a bucket

she turned over her head in a tub overlooking Kathmandu

rising in antiquity to meet us as I watched her

caring for herself   grieving and yet happy

the dust ran off her tiny body as she stood

embraced by glass and light and dusted air

I wish for you a life small girl who shivers un-

controlled on my screen    pulled from the acid

of this war   developed like a photograph into

the obverse image   on my lanai dead palm fronds

the better to catch the sound of early rain

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

They're all angels


He opened the back of his white van. Inside was a big box that read "Underpants." He slipped a plastic bag with cat food inside, as Lilith stuck her nose his way. "Oh you feed the cemetery cats," I said. "They're angels, they really are," he replied. "All the animals make us happy; they're angels. I'd better be getting back to mine." I ask if he has cats. "Oh yes, cats, dogs, mongooses, pigs. Live near the Hygienic Store." 
I ask if I can take his photo. He wrinkles up his face, mutters something about old fat guy, then smiles, posing. Reaches down to pet Lilith. "It's so sad when they go. Angels."
"Did you say your dog's name is Lily?" I explain that it's short for Lilith. "I know someone with a dog that looks like yours named Lily." That rang a bell. Near the school. In local fashion, we quickly tripped on a connection. His grandchildren live there; their father is Jared; this man was Jared's father-in-law. "I tell Jared, he was my son-in-law, now he's my son." I tell the man that I wrote a book about my walks with Lily, and Jared's the hero. (Let's just say Jared's and my politics rhyme, though his are best expressed in da kine.) His granddaughter sometimes calls to ask for a ride home from school. "But it's across the street!" he tells her. It's clear he gives her one.
He asks my name. Sticks out his hand to shake mine. He's Jay. Jay Kapu. I step back slightly, hold up my hands. "You're sacred!" No, there's a very long story there, he says.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Laura Mullen's _eTc_

I reviewed Laura Mullen's new book for Ron Slate's _On the Seawall_.


If you work for an institution, or if you write poems, or if you're an older woman, or if you've experienced the wrath of sociopaths, or if you have or are a cow, the book is a must read. Mullen is fierce, and funny.

11 May 2024


Clothes pins rest like quarter notes, triplets, on a one line staff.

Rain burble, bird squabble (at least when the cat’s outdoors).

Palm fronds hang like sad wigs, tired of water’s weight.

Hard to know if the pins play in major or minor key.

Bird squawks an awkward percussion, behind finch chatter.

Do anything to avoid the madness that is not mad enough

to leave realism behind, its authority assumed, asserted

like an argument without text, scream without fear.

“Dog whistles” can’t be heard by non-dogs, but they enter

the bloodstream as the kind of anxiety we feel before

we assign it value, until that value slips into

waterfalls of impulse without feeling, promising nothing

but metaphysical excuses; it matters because it means .

But back to the lanai, where notes and sounds divorce,

losses marked less by anguish than by paperwork.

Ambient traffic sounds on a wet morning underlay

the structures of chance; our son called us just as

we spoke his name, an event hardly rising to miracle

but not to be dismissed as non-event. These disabled

miracles, or partial wonders, remind us how lucky

we are to breathe. A young man in Canada screams

every night, so no one sleeps well, and we remember

how much we wanted to scream our hurts out as if

they were plastics in the belly of an albatross, freed

by a cough’s violence to make an approximate

garage sale of the lawn; we laid out our treasures:

cups, plastic bags, little forks with and without

tines, creased fast food bags already disgorged

of their processed meals. If we find a clothes

pin, will it make a pure sound inside the portable

alleys we walk down in our suburbs, or the real ones

in Chinatown, where trash is an honorific, beside

stalls of fruits, the Buddhas that laugh behind

plate glass, stuffed animals and lei shops. Look

at nothing as if you know it and nothing will stare

back at you with an absent gaze. To be Gaza’ed

is to avoid looking straight at; in this world, we’re

all autistic, overwhelmed by the sight of another

person’s eyes, small child mourning his mother’s

cooking, image precise enough to skewer your eye.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

8 May 2024


Attend to tenderness, not premeditated cruelty.

Attend to joy, not infliction of pain.

Genuflect, if your knees do bend.

Send prayers via media mail, unsure when they’ll arrive.

Send books as prayers for a distressed catcher, forearm fractured.

No command for gratitude: it’s all being. Be grateful. It’s a state, like Kansas.

Be grateful feels like cliché, until you try it.

Have equanimity, as if it were a dog seated in a stroller, pushed down the streets of Waikiki.

Say words until they make some sense, like “inflection,” followed by “point.”

Say words like “infarction” and place your hand on your heart.

Milk those concrete details for all the abstraction they can bear.

“Abstract sensuousness” labeled the poster of a man wearing a Johnny Cash teeshirt.

He stands behind a pane of glass, as if you could buy him, along with the shirt.

One photograph that didn’t turn out was of a “tropical princess,” white manikin in a twist.

The tropical princess is but an ad for a store of that name.

If we could buy our own advertising for the brands we burn into our arms.

If we could advertise who we are, in the static and yet sentimental sense.

It matters not where you bat, you bat for us.

There are holes in the line-up the catcher fell through.

Call another up, send another down.

The administrative state defines tents as “unsafe,” demonstrations as “violent.”

When there is violence, the administrative state blames it on the peaceful ones.

If the trump trial were fiction, it would have a non-stop laugh track.

Since the trial is real, heads reel, fish at the end of a line, like punctuation.

Do fishermen fish for analogy’s sake?

Do we write to keep totalitarians at bay?

Lilith barked with the fire engine, dog siren.

Does she bark because sirens are emergency arias?

Is her bark a kind of music? How many tones in her scale?

What is the purpose of a line, but to catch at the end?

I catch your drift, said Montaigne to his pen.

I am adrift, I say to my screen.

Who’s pitching today? Oh, Sonny Gray.

The one-armed catcher’s been put away for now.

Long live the new one; may he hit and not be hit.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Lilith is seen to have aged

"Ran into a woman who noted that Lilith looks bigger and older," I said to Olu at the guard shack. Olu of the long salt and pepper hair pulled back in a pony tale, dressed local guy style in baseball cap, teeshirt, shorts. "I just want her to live forever," I told him. He leaned over to brush fur off her; "you walking mommy?"
Having never talked to him about anything other than my dog, his dog, I asked if he loves Trump, like the other guys who work there. "Oh Trump's all right by me. I'm not into politics, but Trump did some good things for the country and Biden has. It doesn't matter who's in charge, I evolve. Just want to keep food on the table. Not a politics guy."
"I don't talk to anyone about politics or religion," had said the woman who remarked on Lilith's age.

Monday, May 6, 2024

6 May 2024


 A tent upended

Resembles an umbrella

Stop bombing Gaza

Umbrella blows down

“Violence” is the umbrella’s

Shelter from suffering


Fills an entire line: police

Sweep students from lawn

As if bowling pin

Not ball made the spare: empti-

Ness of wooden lane

Echoes absolute

Absence of bicycle shields

Cracked heads on sidewalk

Came around a banyan tree, its noodle limbs. Red convertible Cadillac, white man in front passenger seat, drowsing.

At the beach’s other edge, mother monk seal and pup. In the park, a surprise wedding, even to those present. Baby comes in July.

Look to the simple words if not for clarity, then consolation. Birds still sing; tide still comes in. Nothing is still.

I had thought all consolation false, or at least fake. If fiction, then apt. Days grind us to happy dust, our sorrows.

“Too dangerous to swim” read the signs. Dangerous for the seals, perhaps. A local man wishes me a “good vacation.”

No more seal SWAT team, only yellow tape across the beach. The watchers watch trespassing human beings. No seals to be seen right now.

An exchange of vows includes history. History includes presence, a cake made of diapers and a tiara, pens and paper to write wishes down, but not for you.

People pet my dog; I take pictures of their hands.

How do you celebrate presence? The teacher asks us. With balloons! With secret and yet somehow public weddings! With joy inside of tents!

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Lilith and I forget our memory card


   I took some damn good photos today," I told Daniel (ex-Air Force), "but I forgot my memory card." "Now there's a first world problem," he said. He asked after a mutual friend in History; neither of us have heard in a while. Because this friend had supported my mental health activism at UH, I told Daniel [deleted for trigger effects]. He said he took courses at the law school when he worked in security for the Air Force. The kind gentleman who sat behind him every day turned out to be William Richardson (after whom the school is named). They'd often have lunch out in the courtyard. 
"Do you want to hear a joke?" he asked. After my comment that he always had one, he launched into a story that Ronald Reagan told on Air Force One when he worked there. Reagan was campaigning for governor in a rural area of California, knocking on doors. A farmer answered one door and asked who he was. Daniel turned on the Reagan voice (he does it well) and said, "I'm an actor. I'll give you a hint, the initials are RR." The farmer turned around and called out to his wife to get some coffee for their guest. "Roy Rogers is here!"
I ran into a woman in the closest parking area to Kahekili and asked her why there had been so many police cars and an ambulance there a week ago. She had a kind face, tattoos on her shoulders, paused for a moment, and said, "the man who lived there passed away." It was he that Lilith and I often greeted as we took a short cut through the townhouses. An older Hawaiian man, he sat on his upstairs lanai and listened to classical music in the mornings. Public radio, he told us. 
Photographs I took with no memory: Herman, who picks up trash in the morning. He said he also used to take photographs of tree bark. "You need a yellow filter," he said. A mother and daughter walking in the cemetery. The younger woman had weights on her ankles and was lifting red weights with both arms as they walked. She also had tattoos on her muscular shoulders. She and her mother were talking about Kamehameha Schools, her mother pushing a stroller inside of which was a fluffy one-eyed dog in a pink vest. Lilith investigated thoroughly. We talked dogs for a while, then Lilith and I peeled off so Lilith could sniff the edges of the cemetery for mongooses.