Podium: Online Literary Magazine > Issues > Issue 7 > Poetry > excerpt from 'Aina Waipahu: a history

excerpt from 'Aina Waipahu: a history

Helen Dano


Hawaiian translation:  'aina = land; Waipahu = name of a small city (33,000 pop.) on the island of O'ahu, named after a once powerful spring that spewed more than one hundred million gallons of water daily (mcd) out onto the earth; thus, the name wai  = fresh water  pahu = the large, ceremonial drum with a deep, loud, forceful sound

It is not down in any map; true places never are.
—Herman Melville

between the mid-1960s and 2000
Before my mother’s land, the backyard looking down on an abandoned cane haul road; 

    before the sun’s calm shimmer over the harbor
        beyond the interstate highway, not far from here,
        reflects the heat of day;
    before her vegetable garden:
        the bushes of suluyot, tomatoes, okra, eggplant in their tidy rows,
        the neat, squared plots of sweet potato, squash, and scallions,
        the drought-resistant marunggay trees with their sprays
            of dark green lace-like compound leaves
            and mara-utong, the foot-long string bean-like beanpods,
        the papaya trees, bordering a side yard hill, their slight-sized fruit affected
            by the calcareous rock hiding under a shallow layer of topsoil,       
        the trellised beans and bittermelon vines            
            in the early evening breezes, dancing
        (and the dinner hours' kitchen odor of fermented anchovy paste,
            this Filipino bagoong boiling away in a water base, churning
            with fresh tomatoes, onions, and llonng,              
            tiny, sun-dried, orange-colored shrimp, awaiting
            the evenings' pick of vegetables);

    before the four loulu palms, sentinels in a short, straight line in the front yard
            (born of a rare tree, from seeds she picked up
            on the grounds of the Foster Botanical Gardens in town), their
            fronds failing to shade the enormous plate glass living room window
            from the long afternoons' sun, and
        the mango tree with its fruits dangling heavy
            on their paniculate stems, and
        the bettle nut palm, and
        the rose apple tree she considered cutting down
            but did not, and
        the stump of the guava tree she did cut down --new
            growth shooting out from it as if to defy the drastic action,
        the pots filled with her large, old sago palm
            and the tangled, magenta-colored bougainvillea
            and the red amaryllis I sent her one year,
            ordered through a catalog from
            --what was suppose to be--
            my impermanent mainland home,
            though, she never believed that ­­­­­          
            --and was right
            (and the year before she died, she told me that she wanted
            to send the flower to me so I could also see its beauty,
            "Oh, my!" she said several times, back then, "Oh, my!"),
        and the custard apple tree that never bore fruit
            until I left to go away to school,
        and her noni bushes and the stunted coconut tree, none
            tall enough to own any breeze, their roots 
            resting on thick limestone rock;

    before her abandoned attempts to garden bonsai trees, orchids, the peony
        (oh, the sweet-smelling peony --that needs a frozen winter's rest
        to flower in late spring-- she fell in love with the peony
        while on her first Mainland trip to visit me);

    before her pride, her admired roses;

    before many of the town’s children, grown, including those
        of her friends and two of her own
        taking leave of this place,   
        moving somewhere far from its scorching sun,
        and further away from its dying cane
        and the sugar mill closing on this 'Ewa plain;

    before the old Depot Rd., once vital, now superseded,
        truncated by Farrington Highway
        with its too many mini shopping malls
        and one-too-many used-car lots
        lined up one next
        to the other,
        the town center lost:
        Big Way, Arakawa's, Kawano's, shuttered,
        mom-and-pop stores along Waipahu Street
        closed, then torn down,
        the post-office displaced,
        and the largest of the new subdivisions
        wanting their own zip codes
        as progress and its urban sprawl usurps the surrounding
        cane lands and the pineapple’s smooth, cool hills
            (these lands, stills in Blue Hawaii,
            as Elvis cruised up Kam. Hwy.
            not far from what would become my mother's yard, with
            Diamond Head in the upper far right frame of the picture);
    before backyard fences of concrete bricks did not altogether
        block the sight and the noise of the highways
        that steered the city toward the country and
        sculpted suburbia into these carmine-colored plains;

    before streetlights seen far off:  like icy jewels strung up and reeling
        through valleys once grown dense with sugar cane,
        disappearing deep into the gulches,
        cresting the low ridges of the encroaching distances,

    before the clear creeks (these seepage from several springs
        that can be annoyances to modern development):
        their beds pressed with prefabricated concrete blocks,
            these man-made channels built to discourage
            the mosquito breed --and, when they did not,
            crop-dusting planes were sent up to spray the night--
            and to avert the seasonal, treacherous floods
            that could do damage to the new subdivisions
            built on lands with forgotten histories of rice paddies and taro patches,
        and despite this artificial ground,
        the big-eyed aholehole fish
        teem and spawn --just as generations of their kind
        have done before--
        in the brackish waters melded
        of the cold, sweet springs of these leeward lands
        and the briny tides of the harbor Pearl;

    before the military fences, and their "DO NOT TRESPASS!" signs,
        and the state government fences and their "KAPU! KEEP OUT!" signs,
        and a city & county landfill sight burying an ancient sea's coral coastline
        ­­--all severing this town from the harbor that defines its southern border,
        here, thirteen miles from the expanding metropolis, Honolulu,

    before the red dirt, ubiquitous, flies, becomes red dust;
This land, this ‘aina, was my grandfather's.


Helen Dano is author of the children's book The Little Makana (Bess Press, Honolulu).
Her poems have been published in the online version of Sam Hamill's Poets Against War
as well as in the e-zine one three eight, and the literary journals Poetry in Performance
and Global City Review. A recipient of a 2007-2008 Bronx Council on the Arts Writer's Fellowship, she is pursuing an MFA in Poetry at City College. This is the second time her work has appeared in Podium.