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By Brandy Nālani McDougall

I’m so tired of pretending

each gesture is meaningless,

that the clattering of niu leaves

and the guttural call of birds

overhead say nothing.

There are reasons why

the lichen and moss kākau

the niu’s bark, why

this tree has worn

an ahu of ua and lā

since birth. Scars were carved

into its trunk to record

the mo‘olelo of its being

by the passage of insects

becoming one to move

the earth, speck by speck.

Try to tell them to let go

of the niu rings marking

each passing year, to abandon

their only home and move on.

I can’t pretend there is

no memory held

in the dried coconut hat,

the star ornament, the midribs

bent and dangling away

from their roots, no thought

behind the kāwelewele

that continues to hold us

steady. There was a time

before they were bent

under their need to make

an honest living, when

each frond was bound

by its life to another

like a long, erect fin

skimming the surface

of a sea of grass and sand.

Eventually, it knew it would rise

higher, its flower would emerge

gold, then darken in the sun,

that its fruit would fall, only

to ripen before its brown fronds

bent naturally under the weight

of such memory, back toward

the trunk to drop to the sand,

back to its beginnings, again.

Let this be enough to feed us,

to remember: ka wailewa

i loko, that our own bodies

are buoyant when they bend

and fall, and that the ocean

shall carry us and weave us

back into the sand’s fabric,

that the mo‘opuna taste our sweet.


This poem first appeared in Capitalism Nature Socialism. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  • Living
  • Nature

Poet Bio

Brandy Nālani McDougall
Born and raised on Maui, Brandy Nālani McDougall earned a BA from Whittier College and an MFA from the University of Oregon and is a PhD candidate at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. She also studied at the University of Auckland. McDougall teaches at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.  See More By This Poet

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