from understory

By | 1 August 2015

for my wife
and our unborn daughter [håga]


We cannot think of a time that is oceanless
Or of an ocean not littered with wastage

—T.S. Eliot from ‘The Dry Salvages’


[she] is
drinking a

glass of
filtered tap Brita Pitcher Plastic Water Filtration $24.99

water when
she first

feels [håga]

from fukushima
litters the

beaches of
oʻahu gathering

place [she]
is watching

an online
documentary about

home birth—
part of

a comb
corner of

a crate
piece of

bottle cap—
[she] is

craving poke
fish eat ʻahi poke : $17.99 per lb at safeway in mānoa
preserved with carbon monoxide to promote color retention

fish that
eat plastic

derived from
oil absorbed

by tissue—
the doctors

recommend [we]
schedule a

you cut

open the
bellies of

large birds
you will

find the
bristles of

[our] tooth-

amniotic fluid
is ninety

percent water
because every 4-pack replacement filters $24.99

body births
plastic never

dis- so-
lv- e- s


before i first
visit [her] in

we eat ʻahi
limu poke at
the beach—before

we wash [our]
hands in salt
water and forage

the tide for
shells—before we
learn [our] body

languages before
i mistake trade
winds for her

hair—before my
tongue dives—before
[we] come against

wreckage—before [we]
close our eyes
to see what

darkness asks [us]
to let go—
before chickens crow

the sun rising—
before i knew
i would stay—

before vowels and
consonants—before was
pō—first darkness

birthing [our] sea
of moving islands—


i tinituhon—

[she] is breathing—

at home under a muku moon—

every island is an end and a beginning—

we time the contractions—

neither ocean nor oceanless—

thirty minutes apart—

hacha hugua tulu fatfat lima—

“imagine each contraction is a wave”

says the voice on the hypno-birthing app—$9.99

the alphabet is a collection of bone hooks—

neither arrival nor departure—

i place my hand on [her] darkened piko—

neither origin nor destination—

sounding lines measure night passing—

should [we] go to the hospital?


dear fu’una, first
mother, this is
my first prayer

to you, full
of questions: taotao
manu hao? where

are you from?
what made you
leave your first

home? war, disease,
rising tides? so
many of [us]

have left guåhan,
deployed to faraway
bases—dear fu’una,

dispensa yu’, i
lost [our] first
language in transit,

first words become
ghost islands—fu’una,
first sister, what

did you carry
aboard the canoe?
hacha hugua tulu

fatfat lima—i
carried my passport,
baseball cards, and

coin collection aboard
i batkon aire
to san francisco—

how did you
let go?


during RIMPAC 2014


when [håga]
was newborn

[she] rinses
her in

the sink—
atrazine in

the water—
a fat

pilot whale
deafened by

sonar washes
ashore hanalei

that [håga]

is bigger
[she] bathes

her in
the tub,

cleans behind
her ears,

sings, “my
island maui,”

written by
her dad,

jeff, whose
ashes were

scattered in
māʻalaea harbor,

decades ago—
schools of

recently spawned
fish, lifeless,

litter the
tidelines of

nānākuli and
māʻili, koʻolina

and waikīkī—
when we

first take
[håga] to

the beach,
[she] carries

her into
the water,

hanom hanom
, DU

munitions, PCBs,

secures [håga]
tightly to

her chest—
what will

the weapons,
ships, aircrafts

and soldiers
of 22

nations take
from [us]?

i wrap
them in

a large
towel when

they return
to sand—

“i introduced
[håga] to

grandpa jeff,”
[she] says—

is oceania
memorial or

target? monument
or territory?

economic zone
or mākua?

a cold
salt wind

surges across
the beach—

[we] shiver
like generations

of coral
reef bleaching—


Understory: in ecological studies, ‘understory’ refers to the plant life that grows beneath
the canopy of the forest, and consists of a diversity of shrubs, saplings, fungi, and seedlings.

Pō: In the Hawaiian belief system, Pō is the creative darkness from which all things emerged.

Fu’una: In the Chamorro belief system, Fu’una is the mother of creation that gave birth to the
Chamorro people. Worship of Fu’una was displaced by the missionization of Guam and replaced
by Catholic beliefs of creation.

Poke: Hawaiian dish made with raw fish.

I tinituhon: Chamorro for ‘The Beginning.’

Hacha hugua tulu fatfat lima: Chamorro for ‘one two three four five.’

Dispensa yu’: Chamorro for ‘forgive me.’

Piko: Hawaiian for ʻnavel.ʻ

Mākua: Hawaiian for ‘parent.

I batkon aire: Chamorro for ‘airplane’ (literally, ‘air boat’).

Hanom hanom hanom: Chamorro for ‘water water water’

DU munitions: DU stands for ‘Depleted Uranium.’

SINKEX: Military term that refers to a ‘Sink Exercise,’ in which an unmanned target ship is
used for torpedo or missile testing, sinking decommissioned warships in the Pacific.

RIMPAC: Military term for ‘Rim of the Pacific Exercise,’ the largest international maritime
wartime exercise that takes place biannually in the waters around Hawaiʻi. In 2014, the year
my daughter was born, twenty-two nations participated in RIMPAC.

For more on the territorisation of the ocean.

Various covers of Jeff McDougall’s song, ‘My Island Maui,’ can be listened to on YouTube.

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