Tuesday, November 30, 2010
I asked my friend, Mr. Ron, to sit and have a man to bird, or bird to man conversation. See, I am Sugarberry, a beautiful albatross, if you don’t mind a little boastfulness on my behalf. I am proud of my pedigree, for I was named after my mother’s great grandmother, Wanda Sugarberry Flan. Her husband Sir Winston Flan III was the first of our kind to soar above the mountains of what is now called the Himalayas. He caught an air stream that took him across the Pacific Ocean to the islands, which now are known as Hawaii, and my birthright.
I say right because my mother and father were deeded the land on the island of Kauai. My mother was a genealogist and kept very accurate records, both air plots and land surveys. Mom had this feminist attitude that I was the recipient of and will pass on to my children. My husband, Sir Cedric Wilson, is one strong Albatross, a little overweight in the mid-section and not as romantic as when we first meet. See, there was one time when we were cuddling below a palm tree overlooking the cliffs above the north shore gazing at the grey cloud cover with the sun rays drawing water from the ocean’s white capped swells. Cedric, put his wing around me, drew me so close that I had to bend my wing to protect my breast from his unintentional petting. Yet, on the other wing, I suppose I wanted that moment to turn into the "Mating Dance". If you have not seen us dance, it is an inherited waltz of sorts with a little salsa and merengue mixed in. We once performed this exchange in the quite still of the evening with trade winds cooling the warm body heat as we danced to the music of the evening, as if Andrea Bocelli was performing live "Per Amore".
Now, sad to say, it’s not Cedric’s fault that he can’t get the juices flowing. See, this once peaceful refuge was taken over by landlords, that word lord should be stricken and changed to hordes. They just started digging and building and moving our homes without even giving us notice. I hear they did the same thing to group of Indians on another continent. I guess that’s a lesson in history that just got overlooked. See, before these landhordes, there was a "beautiful people" that loved the land and cared for the land and its inhabitants. They danced and sang songs and played in the ocean. They even made their alphabet with only a few letters, so when they wrote songs and letters it was mo better. Here I go again ragging on something I can’t change. I guess our nesting grounds, someday will be gone. See now we live next to a "natural gas tank" and the only trades we feel are when the air conditioners are running and the air from the inside is blown out of a hole in the wall.
Well, Mr. Ron , I guess I am the chatty one, please forgive me, for my aunties are gone, my family is now just me and Cedric. See for some strange reason I can’t get pregnant, oh well, maybe it’s for the best. We are down in numbers and soon this once proud bird of Hawaii will be gone, not by the way of the wind, but by the way of greed. Mr. Ron, why is greed so important to your people? Don’t they want the refuge of Aloha that we once shared with the beautiful people, the Hawaiians?
Sugarberry, see someday, someone will get it right, hopefully before it’s too late. Sugarberry, "[ T]he greed of gain has no time or limit to its capaciousness. Its one object is to produce and consume. It has pity neither for beautiful nature nor for living human beings. It is ruthlessly ready without a moment’s hesitation to crush beauty and life out of them, molding them into money."*
It’s sad... Sugarberry .
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Three a.m. and I cannot sleep. Giving up, I tiptoe out of the bedroom and settle onto the koa framed sofa. Bill’s mother, Agnes, bought the sofa and two matching koa wood-framed chairs when she and Bill’s father married and moved into her house in 1927. I settled down onto the dark green fern and flowery-patterned kettle cloth, my head resting on old quilt-patterned pillows, and looked slowly around the small room. Why couldn’t I sleep?
A gecko chirped from the kitchen. I could hear gentle waves washing ashore nearby. The moonless sky was a deep black, cradling the house. Sounds drifted in through the windows, palm branches rustling in the breeze. The soft air soothed me. Living on an island, nature caresses you, something I miss when away from the islands.
This really is a charming place, I thought, as my eyes roved slowly around the room. The wood slatted walls and ceiling, the dark wood trim at the top and bottom of the walls framing the room, the built-in, dark wood, china cabinet. Inside the cabinet, sit the purple tea cups, the etched red glass ice cream dishes and matching plates, the old ukulele, a couple of hand-made lauhala hats with handmade feather lei circling the crowns, treasures once part of the life of Bill’s mother, Agnes. I imagined her opening the glass doors, which didn’t have rusty hinges then, and serving a special mango ice cream for dessert after the Sunday duckling dinner. I suspect Bill always wanted seconds. In the kitchen, we still use the tall, glass-door cabinets from the 1920s. One of the cabinets has wire mesh shelves and screened openings at top and bottom for air circulation. Bill calls it a ‘cooler’ as the air cools the fruits and vegetables stored there. On the wall next to that cabinet, adjacent to the back door, thick, stiff, electrical wires enter the house through big holes drilled into the wood and then run down into the fuse box. Geckoes must consider it their private entrance. Since the house was constructed with only single walls, the wires could not be covered up. So we painted them white. Agnes’ house had indoor plumbing but not every house in the neighborhood was so fancy.
Agnes must have loved every inch of this two bedroom cottage. She paid for it with her pineapple cannery earnings after saving for years. Required to help pay for the education of her brothers at a high school in Honolulu, and no high school on the island for her to attend, she was sent to work at age fifteen in the cannery. Her long hours produced meager pay. But with several siblings, there was little possibility of further education in those days, especially for a young woman. Life was difficult, and money was hard to come by despite her father’s job at a plantation as a luna, supervisor. She married late for those days, in her thirties. Not for her, ala ala, lazy boys. She had made up her mind that she wouldn’t marry a man unless he earned two hundred dollars a month. Given the limited opportunities on the island, most men worked in the fields of pineapple or sugar cane. Long hours, hard work, poor pay. No, Agnes wanted a more secure life. So she worked and saved her money.
In the early 1920s, a developer named Sanborn bought several acres of marsh and sand dunes in the Waipouli ("dark water") Stream area to the south of tiny Kapa’a and built a few dozen homes. Mr. Sanborn thought the area was perfect for a suburban development of homes on large lots. It was here that Agnes bought not just one, but two, of the homes when the developer struggled with hard times. On her wedding day, she and her husband moved into one of the houses. She must have been pretty proud.
The Waipouli neighborhood was settled by many of the immigrant workers who completed their labor contracts at the plantations and soon the streets became playgrounds. The sugar train came puffing right through the middle of the area on its way to the refinery to the south, its squat cars stuffed with harvested cane, pieces dropping off as it trundled along. A favorite game for the kids was running alongside the slow-moving train and pulling out a long piece of cane to suck on it. "Cane! Cane!" the kids would yell, coming frighteningly close to the steel wheels. When they would grab a piece and pull, it sometimes dragged them along for several feet until it either came loose or you couldn’t keep up with the train. The bigger kids heightened the danger by playing ‘chicken’ and would stand on the narrow bridge over the canal as the train approached, jumping off seconds before the train could strike them. One of the small boys called the train "puffagiggey" because it made that sound. It may seem strange that family homes were built surrounding the train tracks, but that’s the way it was.
Once we made the decision to move back to Bill’s home on Kaua’i, Bill and I had had many discussions about how to fit into this small, two bedroom house with only one bathroom and little storage space. After a conversation with a contractor and hearing ideas for expanding the home, we spent hours talking about it. Tonight, at dinner, we finally concluded there was little economic sense in just remodeling a termite-ridden old house with sloping floors and decided to tear it down and rebuild. The big lot allowed for a nice home and we could add a second story with a balcony facing the ocean. Windows in the rear would face the mountains and allow breezes to move through the upper rooms, a natural air conditioning. Think of the storage room we would have, the larger living room and kitchen, all modernized! So our thinking went, each comment cementing our decision.
Now, at three a.m., looking around Agnes’ home, its charm, its old island style, I was overcome with sadness. Perhaps we could put wood slatting on the walls of the new house instead of dry wall. Perhaps on the ceiling too, just like this one. And we have to keep the dark wood trim at the floor and ceiling. And the china cabinet. Oh-oh. Must try to save it and reinstall it in the new house. But what am I saying? If all of this is so hard to let go of, perhaps we made the wrong decision? How can I tell Bill I have changed my mind, if I have? We have gone so far as to sketch plans and get a rough cost estimate. Is it wrong to reverse the decision now? Will he be disappointed?
A deep yawn convinced me to try to fall asleep again. As I leaned over to turn out the light, I admired the reflection of the light on the wooden walls and ceiling. I will miss this charm, I thought, and headed back to bed.
After our morning ritual of coffee and watching the waves, Bill and I walked down the street. He described again how the developer had planted three rows of ironwood trees between the street and the beach, providing a wind screen for the homes. Under the trees, sweet-smelling night-blooming cereus would send its fragrance into the dreams of sleeping families. The beach, a few feet below the road level, was a perfect place for keiki, kids, because the low upthrust rock reef prevented big waves from knocking you down and kept the water level no more than knee deep. No worry your little one would get swept out. A neighbor placed a wooden dock out in deeper water for the bigger kids to use for diving. Bill learned to swim at this beach and built tin canoes with his friends. Later, he would snorkel there and once even met a small shark swept in by big waves.
As we walked along enjoying the morning and watching the clouds drift up to the mountains, Bill asked if I still wanted to tear down the house and build a new one. Surprised by his question, I paused. Was this the time to tell him my feelings during the night? If he really wants to do this, is it right for me to change my mind? Then I told him how I had awakened at three a.m., sat in the living room and began to feel sad about tearing down Agnes’ home.
Bill broke into a smile and laughed. "I woke up about four AM and had the same feelings! I cannot tear it down. My mother bought it with her pineapple cannery earnings which was such an unusual thing for a young woman to do in the 1920s. It’s small but so charming. Shall we forget about tearing it down and just remodel?"
The rest of our walk was spent describing what we would like to do: add a big porch, a laundry room and bathroom, expand the bedroom. We also agreed that it just might have been Agnes who woke up each of us with a message in the soft breeze: "Please don’t tear down my home."
Saturday, November 27, 2010
The sun’s setting rays bathe my bare arms, legs and face with gentle warmth. Foamy waves froth around my feet. Gentleness seeps into my being. For many years I have relished the solitude of this beach. How often it has been a place of refuge for me: a place where I have been able to just be. Today I still walk here alone, but rumors connecting the recent disappearance of two wemoon with attacks that took place on the west side many years ago, create inner turmoil.
The tide is low. The granular texture of compacted beach sand massages my feet. I imagine it is releasing my tension; dislodging my fearful phantoms– letting them wash away into the vast ocean.
The golden sheen created as the incline of beach is washed by ocean and infused with setting sunlight, is the backdrop to where crabs seem to pick up skirts and glide like Japanese dancers towards the ocean. A dark grey bird with a long flat silver beak shakes out its feathers as it perches on one of the huge tree boulders lodged in the beach sand.
As I step into the red dirt river that snakes into the ocean my feet anticipate the contrast. While they remember and still hold the comfort of the waves’ warm water, the colder water that has come from its source at Mount Waialeale revitalizes them. I stand here a moment enjoying how alive this makes me feel.
I turn to look at the full moon as it languishes on the eastern horizon. A sudden movement causes my chest to tighten. The gentle, soft air in and around me pauses. My refuge vigilantly watches with me. The inner seesaw begins.
"Turn around! Go home! Be discerning! People care about you – have warned you!"
"I will not let paranoia rob me of my sanctuary…it’s just hype…this place is protected…I’m protected…."
Inner voices struggle to find balance – totter one way and then another as they try to find that inner still place of allowing what is….
My refuge sighs with me when we realize, "Ahhh palm frond shadows playing on driftwood – an illusion of movement…."
Determined to banish unsettling thoughts, and enjoy this peaceful slice of paradise, I pick up a wrinkled but still intensely yellow lilikoi. I sit on a bleached white branch where ocean and sand meet, soaking in the sights of mercurial ocean washing into protected bay, and the silhouette of palm trees stretching into blue with white streak of clouds. Waves roll in and gently break. Birds sing and, where but on a beach on Kauai, would a rooster crow. I sniff in deeply, and savor ocean air mixed with the woody smell of driftwood and koa nuts. I deliberately breathe slowly, and then bite into the lilikoi and gently squeeze the sweet fruit caviar into my mouth. The thick yellow juice dribbles down my chin.
Great Pele – how I love this beach! Pakala -Hawaiian for ‘place in the sun’ is what someone told me. I continue to walk and pass driftwood sculptures…the beckoning hand, the crouching lion, the startled buck...pass the kiawe bush with its dark tangled branches and thorns that grow right into the water…pass the kukui nut trees that flutter down huge yellow heart shaped leaves...pass the palm trees with thick trunks layered like shakes of a roof. Sometimes, it is the intense blue of a discarded lobster shell that beckons me to take a closer look. This evening it is a piece of coral that looks like a finger.
What was that? Deliberately I stop and look all around...slowly. Is it just a falling kukui nut…or coconut, or is he waiting in the underbrush? Is the coral finger warning me, or is it giving fear the proverbial middle finger? Is fear just an acronym for false evidence appearing real?
I turn to face where the sound is now a constant crashing. My heart is racing. My body is taut. I struggle to breathe. It takes all of my will not to run. My fingers shake so much I can hardly touch my husband’s speed dial on my i-phone.
I nearly cry with relief, and burst out laughing when two rust-red heifers emerge from a clearing between the palms. Surprised to see me, they pause, give me a long hard look, and then bolt back from where they came.
The moon emerges from behind a cloud, and I imagine she winks at me as she showers her silver light on sand, trees, sea...and me.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Kono had a car that occasionally remembered everyone who had ever been in it, and when this happened the car would bulge out hugely on both sides, looking like the cheeks of an enormous chipmunk, a most remarkable sight. The first time this happened Kono had the side-panels hammered back into place by his nephews, but when it kept happening he tried to sell the car, but the car refused to start for any potential buyers, so back it kept coming to Kono, for whom it started as soon as he laid a hand on it. Finally his nephews put loose canvas panels on the car.
That was a most remarkable car. It got so it would start for Kono if he even waved his hand from a distance in a certain way or asked politely or sang a certain song.
The car also remembered the voices of every person who had ever ridden or slept or eaten in it, which Kono discovered one day when he turned on the radio and out came the voice of his grandmother who had been demised nine years. She was on the AM dial with the other old people, and the young people who had been in the car were on the FM dial. You could go to any radio station, AM or FM, and pick up a story someone had been telling when they were in the car. It was a most amazing thing. Kono said we should take the car to the university where they paid money for stories from the old days but when we went to the university no one believed a car-talking story so that was that.
The problem came when we were driving along one day and Kono turned on the radio and out came the voice of the girl he was dating saying things she should not have been saying to a man she should not have been saying them to. We were all quite startled, and Kono remembered that he had given her the car last summer for two weeks while we were fishing in the islands to the west. Kono had talked to the car for a long time before we went that time, explaining that he would be away, and that it was okay that she drove it, she was a girl you could trust, but here was proof she was a girl you could not trust, which was quite startling, because you should have seen this girl, she was the sort of girl you would like to have as your girlfriend if you did not have the girlfriend you have, for many more reasons than her beauty, which was considerable, but here she was on the FM dial, saying things that were not the sort of things you would like to hear your girlfriend say to anyone other than you.
Kono changed the station and we drove on silently for a long time.
Kono has no expectations in life, because he says you always get disappointed if you have expectations, and disappointment leads to fistfights and despair and dents in your car, and expectations are also essentially fascist, he says, because they are essentially attempts to constrain the behavior of others, and who am I to tell anyone how to behave? Yet we could see that he was deeply sad at hearing his girlfriend say these things. He would not confront her, because confrontations, he says, are functions of expectations, they are the theater of expectations, in which he declined to participate, but he did not find opportunities any more to ask her to go fishing or dancing or driving in the car anymore either, which was saddening to everyone involved, because this was one excellent and wonderful girl, and she really liked Kono.
This went on for ten days during which it rained all the time and the car was so crammed with the volume of all the people who had ever been in it that the canvas panels were flung out like sails in gales. It refused to play the girlfriend’s voice at all after it realized Kono was sad and when you touched the button for the radio station where the girl’s voice had been you got a men’s chorus from a church in Hanalei, usually singing Just a Closer Walk with Thee. After a few days it refused to play FM stations at all and would only play the old people telling stories on AM.
On the eleventh day the car began to play only Kono’s grandmother telling stories, but she was a remarkable storyteller, and death had not staunched the flow of her stories, for out they poured, one after another, stories no one had ever heard before, to the point where pretty soon people were crowded around the car and Kono had to prop up the canvas panels so the old people could hear better. On the twelfth day he gave up all thought of actually driving the car and he parked it in front of Foodland and opened the canvas and people came with folding chairs to listen to Kono’s grandmother. By the fourteenth day people were coming from all over the island and even from Oahu and there was a lady from the university with a tape recorder. There were also people selling fruit and beer. On the seventeenth day, late in the afternoon, Kono’s grandmother said that she had come to the end of this particular story cycle, and would like to speak privately to her grandson Kono. He was in the car for a long time, with the flaps down and the windows rolled up, and when he came out he smiled at everyone and said the stories were finished for a while but there would be stories again at some point, he would alert everyone as soon as he was told the schedule, and he said politely that he needed to actually drive the car, he had been assigned a mission by his grandmother, and everyone was very polite and made room for Kono and the car to slowly inch out of the parking lot. He drove to the girl’s house and said he was sorry for being sad at what she had said, and whatever she said was her business, and not his, his business was to say that he thought she was the best and coolest girl there ever was, and to ask that she come with him in the car to the beach, where they could hold hands and drink beer and tell stories, and she said she would, so that was that.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Hibiscus, blossoms waving shadow
on white Church walls, blank as
death’s weeping erasure.
Walls clean as penitent sugar-men
taking Christ’s body into their own.
Hungry men filled with linguica,
quick to cut stalks, to pluck joy
from the five-stringed rajczo,
fret-fingers jumpy as fleas.
Strong ones gone, Madeira lost as
cane gave way to Crazy Shirts,
as Daishi built 88 shrines.
As sugared malasadas stir craving
at the shack in Lihue. As jokers
mumble: one Portoogee…
Bones as dry as geranium leaves
deep in the riotous cluster,
far from the flower-pots of Lisbon.
Each bloom a wonder till puckered.
Till buds in a silent untwisting
glorify white wall and sky.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
In the City
She was a ghost walking in her body
Living a strange dream of grey concrete dark resolutions conformed to the masses
She dreamed of the oceans, of jungle forests rich with absolute freedom
Leaving all she knew, her identity, the threads of the clothes she wore and the things she used to own, that she thought defined her
Leaving all she knew on the wings of a flight
She fled to the sea
Because it was better to be lonely with the wind in her hair, staring out at the possibilities of an endless ocean...
She found herself walking the craggy lines of ocean and land the parti-colored sunrises, watching ships fade slowly in the distance. She lost track of time and began to dance she found herself feeling ancient in her art form
She moved languidly through the beauty of the island
She found refuge
The pulse of her heart sustaining and her body coming back to life and her breath
Pushing farther into the heart of the island as she came nearer to Kalalau
She was reminded of her heartbeat a fierceness so deep it pushed her on as tears streamed down her and she lay on the warm rocks of redemption
She found refuge
Living without the limit of time she began to learn how to let go, she began to sing from a place she had not known
From the pure space of the divine
She found refuge
She dreamed of dolphins and awoke and was brought to the sea, it was calm and flat and she swam out to find them swimming as the sun rose
She found refuge
She began to surf when the sun would rise she would drive down and paddle out on her board...it was there where adrenaline and calm resolve would meet
She found refuge
She returned to a little sleepy town and decided to do all she ever wanted, she made all that surrounded her beautiful, she began to paint picturesque symphonies the colors liberating something deep inside her
She found refuge
In the trails which would stain her with the earth of red dirt, the solace of the eminence of velocity of the rapport of nature vibrating to the step of her soul
She found refuge
On the island that healed her soul in such a way that she had never known, the deliverance of her voice, the recognition of life
On the island
She found refuge
She found refuge
She found refuge....
Friday, November 12, 2010
Winners and runners up (see list below) are invited to read and share their entries at a public reading on Monday, Nov. 22, 2010, at the Technology Education Building* at Kaua’i Community College from 5-7 p.m. All winners and runners up are asked to please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time permitting, other writers may sign up to read their submissions on a first-come, first-read, sign-up basis. Time limit not to exceed five minutes.
Submissions of the contest winners and runners up will begin posting on www.kauaibackstory.com after the public reading. We give a special thanks to our sponsors, the Garden Island Arts Council, for its continued support with cash prizes, and to Kaua’i Community College, for sponsoring the venue for this annual event. We also recognize award-winning author Patricia Wood, Lottery, for serving as guest judge for the 2010 KauaiBackstory.com Creative Competition.
Kauaibackstory.com is a venue for rigorous writing with a view about Kauai. Year-round, the on-line literary journal welcomes high-quality writing and thoughtful images from the public. All submissions are moderated by a three-person editorial board, however, not all are posted. Kauaibackstory.com encourages the expression of all voices and delights in words and images that shift thinking and open minds. Much like an on-line blog, kauaibackstory.com encourages interactive dialogue with the hopes that the time-honored tradition of kama'ilio, talk story, will build community and understanding.
Sharon Douglas, “Refuge”
Bill & Judie Fernandez, “Listening to Agnes ”
Ron Horoshko, “Sugarberry, One Beautiful Albatross”
Sequoia Leech-Kritchman, “Red-Dirt Caked Feet”
Catherine Lo, “Ode to Shanarae Kaulana Donovan (1992-2010)”
Jessica Meek, “Refuge” (student entry, 13 years old)
Jean Rhude, “The Great Tenderness on the Edge of Everything”
Kathleen Viernes, “ The Flight of Life”
* The KCC Technology Education Building is located on the north end of the campus parking lot. Drive into campus; pass the Performing Arts Theatre on your right; look ahead for the Technology Education Banner; look for the metal railing and enter through the left side door.