Sunday, June 30, 2024

Lilith in 1863


"Are you going to tell me that Trump won that debate?" I asked Uncle John, who was smiling at me like a cheshire cat. We exchanged words: "dementia" for him, "pathological liar" for me, "laughter" for him, "narcissism" for me. We both stopped. He looked down at Lilith and said, "but I love you guys."
We could have been in the trenches at Gettysburg, calling across the field at each other each night after killing was done for the day.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Lilith meets the park custodian


A child said, Aunty, what is one tita? I might say:
The park worker was weed whacking next to the fence Lilith and I walk by to get home. I asked if the tour bus that got stuck yesterday at the school had gotten freed. "Oh my god," she said, short woman in her weed whacking chaps, red bandana twisted on her forehead, lively light brown eyes. "No common sense! Had to get kids off the bus, standing there in the hot sun, while the back wheels flew around. Got another bus, finally, for the zoo trip." It's one of those things, like you go to the restroom to shit and there's no toilet paper; either you go to another stall, or you get right in there and do it." 
There's a reason she always works alone; might be in prison otherwise. "This power washer guy, he puts his sign on the fence. I take it off. He complains to the bosses, cuz his sign worth $600. I say, show me that place with the $600 signs!" And this woman complained to the mayor: she came early with her dog, and she told her it's not a dog park, you gotta have control of your dog, and she made a stink and reported her. Said it was one service dog; can't ask them their disability. "My wife as a disability; no one's allowed to ask her." "I was out here on the hill, weed whacking, and there was three piles of shit. It was one shitty day!" "So I saw her on the road one day and I yelled, 'Call da mayah, bitch!' and she looked down." 
Better here, but. She works at several parks. Sometimes this is her fourth park of the day. She takes pride in her work; the place looks neat when she drives by in her truck. District park, whoa, found a dead woman in the field there, homeless, and some guy killed himself there, it's a spooky place. Sacred. She's been in the hula world, she understands it. And you, she says to me, you appreciate nature, the lady who takes photos. "I like being outside," she said. Just gotta work alone. "Oddah guys just sleep on the job." And two of them died, one of a heart attack, the other had one stroke." 
"All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier."
--Walt Whitman

Monday, June 24, 2024

A Puzzle: Fourth Elegy

 Needs editing, but so do I:

I wake up trying to put you

together again. I can’t look

at what I can’t imagine

or can as I pretend to open

an instruction manual

that tells my hands how

to recreate your hands, chest,

arms, skull, the bright face

I can’t see dimmed

even in death. Body split

open is not fruit or seed

or even mulch, but presence

of blood and being

whose spirit wanders--

even your killer wants

you not to wander

though she has her reasons--

through bardos, down streets,

before altars, bead to bead

as mantras repeat

spirit’s recipes for rising

resting filling air with yeasty

smell, like the smoke on

the lawn that rose as presences

into hapu`u ferns and the o`hia

lehua perking up for a lover

built of wood, red pom pom

(you’d been a cheerleader!)

lit against the gnarled bark

signal to your being here

in the forest for the trees

not finding any but signs

the rusted ones: Men Working

propped against a tree stump

or No Trespassing dissolving

into rain’s constancy

or your post-it notes to re-

mind you of Impermanence,

and that no one will applaud

you until death has softened

all our hard edges.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Third Elegy

To make meaning. To thresh it. To go all agricultural with it.

To sew meaning. To hem it. To haw it. To mend it when it tears.

To mean. To have that ambition. To cut construction paper, glue on it.

To mean, to adhere. As to be connected—nay stuck—together.

To mean as to gather. To harvest. To love the chaff as much as the wheat.

To be the contractor on such a project, a consultant.

That’s my CV, my claim to an ordinary life, investigative, odd.

One day meaning trips, falls, can’t be found at the canyon’s floor.

Meaning: you have failed me, leaving a brief presence like smoke.

It was you who fled the scene of the crime, not in a car

But in an invisible Jeep; we love what we can’t see,

Though in this case, we see what we were told--

Locked in that bathroom with you, dear Sina,

I held your hand, as I did my mother’s, chanting

Om mane pame hung as you, and she, died.

I couldn’t protect my mother from the blotching

That began at her feet, rawled toward her heart.

Sina, if I could hold your hand, perhaps I could save you

From the weapons of your death. I am only participant-

Witness to the crime, detective

Wondering where life went, out window or door,

Fleeing to the provinces, failing to tell

Why what happened happened. All redundancy

Intended, the the of shock, this this of grieving.

Do not enter that small room, my friend says,

But think of the large things, transcendent ones.

And of dogs, puppy plays on the lawn

For whom meaning is only a head game

Humans play to pass the time. We pass away,

We euphemize, we rationalize, we hurt,

We insist we can still talk to you.

The old messages were sometimes banal--

Let’s aspire again to the beautiful

Banality of being. Rain drop on roof,

Distant car, `io that loves the open space.

A little girl recognizes his call,

Pulls flowers from bushes, rests

In her father’s arms. Hold to that.

Hold to that. Hold it.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Conservationist (Volcano)

Down the road past the pasture where goats used to graze, now a few cows nibbling amid the `ohia, past other goats' empty hutches, adorned with an old tire on the roof, I heard a dog bark. A man's voice interrupted the dog, who nonetheless appeared, sweet as can be, to investigate my smells. He called him Brin, and I asked if that were for "brindled," a word I'm hearing a lot these days. Yes, he was that. The man stood outside an open container, inside of which was lots of stuffs; I asked if he was a UH grad, to go with his green shirt and logo. Yes, UH Hilo.
His first mistake, he said, was to study biology; his second was to go into conservation. "Doesn't sound like a mistake for the world," I said. He's now an independent contractor, listing on his fingers the many places he works. The last, most difficult finger, was the County. "They put the small p in planning," he said. "Oh, the corruption, the staring at screens and saying they're working. Can't fix it from within." I muttered something about SCOTUS.
I hate the way people are scraping their lots of the rain forest, I said. Oh yes, but you can do anything you want with a lot less than an acre, and if you buy four adjoining half-acre lots, you can scrape them all, he said. When I said the climate would get warmer here, if the rain forest gets "nibbled," as he called it, he said, "But now you're thinking! And that's a mistake!" 
He has a friend who teaches high school English. So hard, he said. The kids need a teacher to be their alternate parent, because the parents don't have time, or inclination, or they're druggies, he said. I'd told him about my mental health work at UH, how I didn't parent students, but tried to support them. 
Brin kept circulating. Across the road in the brush, down the road, behind the man, sniffing my pants. The man finally said it was getting cooler, so I should probably continue my walk, as that's a sign of rain. We shook hands, exchanged first names, and I walked on, meeting a former neighbor from Oahu who was driving by, and a philosopher ceramicist, friend of the philosophy prof who lives in Albert Saijo's old place. He asked if I was from KC. He's from KC. But no, I just wear a Monarchs cap.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Dog walk, sans Lilith (Volcano)


About a quarter mile ahead of me as I walked back on Haunani Road, a large white dog stopped; she was with a thin man, which was all I could see of him. The man tried half-heartedly to get his dog to move, but she (she was Sheba!) was more interested in my long approach down the road, past the car graveyard and the house with screens hanging from their frames. Her person had kind eyes, set in a wrinkled face, a mouth with few teeth, and a knit cap on top. We talked. His elderly mom had lived in the basement of his house; he brought her here from LA. He can't even stand Hilo, he loves it here so much. He lives on the private road where a man (named Shawn, as it turned out) had screamed at me a couple of years ago. "He's especially bad with women," said P. I said I could tell. 
Up Maile, I saw a much bigger dog--Akita--on a rope held by his person, another wrinkled guy with a glimmer in his eye. I told him I'd often seen the dog (named Mana) by himself, loping down this very road, sometimes with the man in a beat-up car trailing him. Turned out both our dogs are hunters (though little Lilith is not on this trip). Mana had attacked a pig nearby, took his ear off, went after his neck but couldn't bite through the ridge. The man's name was Shawn, but he was not the same Shawn. "I had my .45 with me, and I thought of using it on the poor pig, but I'm not a killer, so I couldn't. The pig looked at me and said, leave me alone, so now there's a one-eared pig out there somewhere." He'd gone home and cried.
I told him I appreciated the fact that he had such a weapon and didn't use it. He hitched up his jacket, so I could see the pistol on his belt. There are gangs around here, he said, and he's interrupted three robberies. They chased him around Volcano village at 60 miles an hour the other day. "We're going to get you, Shawn," they yelled. 
He'd commented on my KC cap. I said it was the Monarchs, from the Negro Leagues Museum in KC. He thought my hat was "politically correct." "You could see why the white guys didn't want to play them," he opined. They were bred . . . I broke in to say that no one is bred for baseball. "Oh, as athletes, he said." I responded that the Black players were like the local Japanese ones, chips on their shoulders, shitty fields to play on, needing to prove themselves. 
He was from Kansas he said. Did I know why Lawrence is such a beautiful town? (So liberal it's crazy, he said, and I responded that that's probably why I liked it, along with having friends there.) Cuz the Jesse James gang burned it down. "Was that before the Civil War?" I asked. He looked pleased and said, yes, Bleeding Kansas. Missouri wanted to be a slave state so they came and burned Lawrence down. It was rebuilt as a beautiful, tree-lined place.
We shook hands (my second hand shake in half an hour) and I walked home. No dog, but a story.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Second elegy

pilgrim’s progress

16. If only you had simply died.

17. “Yes, the lessons do keep rolling in; I’ve noticed that too,” you wrote in your last message to me. If this life is a flash quiz, I’m failing it now, flailing to find answers. Or, answers fail. The wall’s gaps hide lizards and mongooses. But you’ve slipped past my line of sight, even through my fancy new glasses.

18. And then: “It’s nice to think of putting down stakes for good, to lay out books and my mother’s china in their proper homes.” [Pause] “...or less transitory homes, that is.” Apt prosody of a Signal message. Signal from somewhere the map on my phone can’t record.

19. Yesterday morning a signal, perhaps. Lilith and I were climbing a hill when I turned toward the Koolau: a double rainbow! The rainbow didn’t drift in wind, it simply dissolved. Signal to sign, virtual to symbolic presence. There’s presence in your death; I hear you whispering mantras to our animals, blessing them. This morning: a solitary peacock on the road.

20. I hadn’t written you back. I write you back. I cannot write you back. “What happened, Sina?” I’d ask. Interlocutor silent. Not a failure of the net, but of the breath I imagine on your side of it. You were such a spider, weaving out and weaving in. Nets hold bodies, but not their breath.

21. “The revelation that poetry was alive and riding on the breath, line by line, in a direct link to one’s heart,” she ascribed to Olson, whose heart had nothing on hers. Her poem’s breath was slash, oblique, an enjambed line within the line itself. You read as if seated on the back of a gently bucking horse.

22. Radiance of these mountains in the early a.m. Orange yellow cast over green, under blue, and into white. Buddhist shawl sun slung around cliff’s neck. Trees like fuzz on a head resuming its production of hair. After chemo. After radiation. I brought Sangha to the hospital with me; your nurse asked, “where did you get him?” Adoptive mothers, both, we rolled our eyes.

23. We get our lives, don’t we? As in, we acquire them without asking, or acquire them again in adoption. What we don’t get are life plots, tangles, figures of speech, surprises (that seem less so later). The shock of your dying will stop kicking me in the chest, but don’t plan on closure, dear Sina. It’s all detour now.

24. You were our MC when we remembered the university’s dead, too often buried outside of print or email or any notice at all. We performed memory before the Chancellor (who cried), members of the counseling center (in case someone freaked out), students whose peer had died by suicide, colleagues who’d “passed on,” as they say. I prefer the Victorian grave marker, “she fell asleep” on such and such a day. The ground a comforter. Karl Marx and George Eliot whisper to each other from their firm London mattress. The ocean will be your comforter.

25. We set up electric candles, the better not to burn down the Center for Hawaiian Studies indoor/outdoor theater space. We posted photos of the dead. We told stories about them. We pushed them, their names, up grief’s brown hill. Mostly, they fell back to us, undeveloped images still yearning for our company. Syntax is memory's machine. Pull the weed whacker string, hear its whine. A man wearing a monkish uniform will cut back the grass. Grief’s an act of editing.

26. Police say there was an argument between you and her that “escalated.” You, who worked so hard at right speech. Mostly, you were ignored. In the media narrative, you are someone’s victim and someone’s aunt or sister. The real secret was your presence. “She’s a mirror to others,” another author said to me. How the kiss of billiard balls turns to aversion. How your reflectiveness told us who we were, but left you out.

27. “Kali yuga on a stick” is how you described our politics. “The present age, full of sin,” Wiki tells me. The stick lent humor, as if sin were a puppet, bouncing happily on a portable stage, making children scream with delight. Yes, it’s farce all right, this lurching toward apocalypse. All orange wigs and logical fallacy. Stick it to them.

28. Laughter may be the best medicine, according to the Book of Holy Cliche. My meds block my tears. They’ve built themselves a balloon inside my chest that expands when I release my breath. My lungs want out, or at least what’s inside them, prisoner of the Emotional Repression Complex that knocks in code on my ribs. Let me bargain for my tears. Big Pharma, goddamn you, my cheeks call out for refreshment!

29. Oh Sina, truth teller, wise woman, purveyor of explosive laughter (which you offered without terms), colleague who never got to a meeting on time, ethical overlord, pull your trademark scarf tight and gird your loins for the bardo. Seven days in, the lay of the land is coming more clear. I hope you have mountains there, and that they walk like Dogen’s.

30. “farewell, Expectations and False Hope!” you wrote on Buddha’s birthday. “on second thought, don’t fare well. fare badly. fall / & break your wily neck”-- Farewell, dear friend.

Note: title taken from Sina’s poem, “pilgrim’s progress,” in alchemies of distance. Other quotations are from the Introduction.