Particles of fine beach sand the color of café au lait
spackled to our skins,
my daughter, 4, and I raise up when we see it—
a baby monk seal lying on its side at the curve of the bay,
dark, sea-worn rocks like a pod of them
had just washed ashore, skins sparkling,
the curling onrush from the sea bathing them
in foam and ribbons of limu
as though a mother were soaping her children with
a sudsy, green cloth.
But there is no movement, no flesh stirring
under the folds of skin,
and the eyes don’t blink, glaucous stare from them
agaze at the nothing beyond the three of us
gathered in wonder, in worship for the life to come.
We parked the rental on a hillock surrounded by black lava fields,
stepped out, and felt the onshore breeze surge through our clothes.
We walked through scrub ʻoʻhia and baby coconut palms,
their fronds sprouting like green tentacles in the wind,
and climbed a final bluff, mounded reds of aʻa cut by a stream
of silvery pahoʻehoʻe
we followed as our route through to the sea, blue curls of surf
sighing into black sands, skirts of white frothing at the shore,
horizon a slate line under the beryl ocean of clouds.
With Mahealani Pai
Bare-chested, barefoot, he strides atop the rockwall
of Kaloko Honōkahau and points to the curling wave
stitched with streaks of aholehole racing through its glassy face,
a gorgeous, heaving miracle on the breast of the earth
freckled with darts of light like silvery daybreaks,
like dozens of mele moons.
Silhouetted against the silver-grey screen of sky,
Alex, my oldest, wades through the still pond,
picking his way over black stones and the broken
hummocks of lava worn by the sea
to where there’s depth enough to swirl, pivoting,
buoyed in a silva-tint of waters, his fanlike hands weaving
through a sticky light, soft susurrus of wind that holds him
suspended in the aqueous stretch of a scalloped planet.
The soft death rattle of smooth grey stones at the shore,
the shallow stink of the sea, froth of tides, dirty hems of the wind . . .
Iʻm where my father was, 1944, bivouacked by the beach,
Crouching over his dinner of K-rations over a kindling fire,
Glen Miller swing tunes in his head consoling the terror,
temblors from the earth under cannonades of frightful surf.
Divi Bay, Saint Martin
Melancholic yesterday, watching slate-grey clouds
showering down while I lay in a cozy, one-man cabana.
inhabited by fine striations of grief, lamenting a loss.
I thought of writing to the soul of Nazim Hikmet,
saying loving a woman was like writing a book—
that you must do it every day and not forget
it is love’s body on which you write a page of kisses,
turning it over to smooth its shoulders,
rubbing its crease with the blade of your hand.
Then, a sunshower hit and the silvery alphabet of the sea
spelled a god’s name on the frothy tail of a page of surf.
The magical underside of the world,
black glass shattered into sands
heaved into the dark spires of each successive wave . . .
Bowl of shadows lined with white curls of froth,
fingers of seawrack wreathed in spume,
baubles of turtles sliding through your grasp,
You heave with the sighs of an invisible moon,
you mount the earth with salty loins,
you crest with pyramids of desire,
while indecipherable wisdoms,
intoned by each splash of the sea
reach out to us, surging to steal the shoals of our bodies,
to bring to us its barren, black-toothed bite.
Narrow shelf of rough beach, short sandstone cliffsides,
Thousands crowded onto the inhospitable shore,
German artillery from the bluffs only a quarter-mile away
Pounding them with the fractured, black shells of death . . .
My father at seventeen, wading these waters,
Chest-deep with fear, the blood in his ears
Beating a rhythm, a march, a dirge as he came ashore,
Scream of guns, guts of men scattering in salt air.
This poem is a part of a tribute to Garrett Hongo.
Garrett Hongo was born in Volcano, Hawai’i, in 1951 to Japanese American parents. He grew up in Hawai’i and Los Angeles, and earned his BA from Pomona College and his MFA from the University of California-Irvine. His collections of poetry include Yellow Light (1982), The River of Heaven (1988), which received the Lamont Poetry Prize and was nominated for a Pulitzer, Coral Road: Poems (2011), and The Mirror Diary (2017).