a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
This was always the map:
from Pō to Pō
You begin here
E haʻalele mau i ka lipolipo
The old roads must be there
moonlit enough to walk
Here is when I think your favorite mele is Hanalei Moon
since you played it on the organ most nights before bed
I played with dolls on the floor as you handwrote
the notes onto the manuscript paper above
when you sang the words to find the right chords. Here
was where you grew up, where you said every ʻohana
had their own loʻi kalo, a mala. Here is where you made me
butterfish and poi, the eggs with salted water and poi
when I was sick, where you taught me to twirl the poi
on my spoon and kahi the bowl. Here was when we laughed
and listened to the ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi tape, asking
each other Nohea mai ʻoe? Mahea kou ʻāina hānau?
Later when you heard I was going to Hanalei, you’d draw
me a map of what you remembered as a child before you left
with your ʻohana. Here is when you ask if I could find
your brother’s grave. I found him with your map
by the church where the tī grew thick and wild, and the ‘ieʻie
climbed up the trunks of so many trees and the forest felt
like it would reclaim him. Here is when you tried to send
me poi in Aotearoa twice. Here is where you planted kalo,
avocado, orange, and jabong, maiʻa, when you gutted the fish. Here
is when you were maybe 4, youngest keiki of 5, when you were
made to speak English only, though your mother’s first
language was Cantonese and your father’s was ʻōlelo.
Here is where you joke that everyone needs to be careful
what they say around me because it could turn into a poem.
Here is when I was 4 and you told the haole girl
next door to apologize to me for throwing water
in my face. You were watering the plants and asked her:
What’s the matter with you? How would you like it if I did that
to you? Here is where you teach me about germinating seeds,
algebra, how to give and take a joke, how blue light is carried and
scatters. Where we read books of moʻolelo together. Where
I can’t help but think so much about you is a poem, where you tried
to grow beans, squash, corn, grew protea to sell wholesale
and sprayed the pesticides again and again to save them. When
you told me I couldn’t have an allowance like the haole girl next door
because I get fed and clothed, sheltered and loved and in return I
should just learn to see what needs to be done for our ʻohana
and do it. Here is when you asked me to help you get up, where
you watched from bed as Hanalei flooded, the church steeple and
the roof of your old school resting just above the ʻalae water
as it bled into the bay. That summer was wela. I got that
portable air conditioner because the fans just blew hot air
around you. Here is the first time I had to help you in the bathroom,
where I make the bad joke that I’m relieved that you’re relieved
and you groan-laughed as I told you you’re the only one
who would ever get that, as bad as it is. Here is when you fell, when
the carpet became too slippery for you to walk on, where
you mixed the poi and kept the bowl full, when you would slice the ahi
into sashimi over cabbage, the last holiday turkey you cooked
on the Weber, the last 5-meat stuffing, the last pot of jook. Here
was when you stopped playing the organ at night. I called
the hospice nurse because you were sleeping too long.
You woke up, made jokes with her, and later I walked her to her car
and she told me it’s good for you to sleep, that I just have to help
make you comfortable. I have to face you don’t have much time.
Here is when you asked to call the folks from church, where you sang
Hanalei Moon with them before their blessing. Here is where
I became strong enough to hold you, to turn you, to carry you,
and when you stopped asking me to help you get up. Here, you
asked if I was happy. Here, you asked if I was sure that I was happy.
Just a little poi. No more medicine. Lawa already. You said.
Pōʻalua, when I started sleeping in the chair next to your bed with
my baby because there was a ghost you kept seeing in the corner.
Pōʻakolu, when you slept for most of the day, where I realized too
late that there were too many lasts in the past few years and days.
Pōʻahā when you seemed like yourself again and asked me to wheel
you outside on the balcony and deck to see the sky and Haleakalā
in the ahiahi as the moon was rising. Finally a cool breeze as you
looked over that darkening ʻāina of fruit trees and flowered green,
the orange-pink streaks piercing the clouds as the sun sunk. Ua lawa.
Pōʻalima when you kept sleeping, started gasping like ʻaʻohe lawa.
Pōʻaono when—you stopped it all—when all of us were out of the room,
when all of us thought there’d be more time, when
ʻaʻohe lawa ka manawa
we thought we’d be with you, when
you end and begin end and begin
Lawa pono ʻole kēia mau hua ʻōlelo
e hanohano i kou ʻāina hanau,
e hanohano i ka ʻāina hānau
āu i hoʻokumu ai no ka ʻohana
This was always the map:
from Pō to Pō
The roads are said to edge toward
the pali overlooking the ocean
E hoʻihoʻi mau i ka uliuli.
I’ll look for you here where when.
Brandy Nālani McDougall (Kanaka ‘Ōiwi) is a poet, scholar, mother and aloha ‘āina originally from Aʻapueo, Maui and now living with her ʻohana in ʻAiea, Oʻahu. She is an associate professor specializing in Indigenous Studies in the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s American Studies department. Her poetry collection, ʻĀina Hānau, Birth Lands, is forthcoming from the University of Arizona Press in 2023.