We traveled for hours to a small Kohala town
for the Bon dance to honor ancestors.
I suppose, now, a gesture for my education,
to learn another way of being in the world.
Dad, Charlotte, and I may have been
the only haoles there. Despite the crush
of the crowd, I wasn’t anxious. Curious.
the choreographed colorful swirl of movement.
Unfamiliar sounds resounded with respect.
Not sorrow for ancestors who have passed,
but an atmosphere of celebration, of noisy joy.
We used scrip for plates of Japanese food:
teriyaki chicken on skewers, sushi,
heaps of white rice, ume, mochi, sweets.
None unknown to me. The portions, generous.
This teenage haole boy, struggling to find
a place in the world, accepted for once
without reservations, made to feel welcome.
I was in heaven.
Dad believed in heaven and hell, claimed hell for him would be
hallways of tilted picture frames he would be forever adjusting.
He and Charlotte attended the Hawaiian church in Puna. Dad
carried his Hawaiian Bible, lifted his voice in readings and hymns.
I think hell for him was burning pain within the frames of his lungs
from breathing; heaven a day without exhaust, smoke or fumes.
This I believe: hell is man-made, here on Earth. I read and hear
the headlines; what more evidence do we need?
Heaven could be here on Earth—if we loved the land and water
and air, if we loved other animals, if we loved each other.
Along with Dad, I flirted with belief
in reincarnation. I found it intriguing,
One program night we rushed home
to watch The Reincarnation of Peter Proud.
Revelatory, to see a place for the first time,
yet know it.
Long before any TV show we watched,
to his bedroom wall Dad pinned a photograph
of a littoral cone somewhere in Kohala.
Dad believed he had been there in a past life.
I believed him.
Still, might love—aloha—for the land
and its people grant this familiarity?
In south Kohala
near an ancient littoral cone
a Hawaiian man, ageless,
in a malo, sits on a lauhala mat.
Taking the sun, breathing easily,
watching waves roll in and out.
Thin, arms corded,
the bulk of his days behind him.
Perhaps a master carver
or other craftsman. Perhaps
a kahuna specializing in geology.
Perhaps a storyteller
with his pāhoa dagger.
Now a kupuna, an elder.
of blessings from his gods,
wearing breadth of knowledge
and power lightly
as a kīhei on a chilly day.
I can’t quite make out
the landscape of his face.
I’m comforted anyway.