It has been ironic and inspiring—but certainly not surprising—that some of the most vocal opposition, both social and legal, to the controversies of the last few months have come out of Hawaii. Hawaiian poets have been speaking out against colonialism, government oppression, and the hidden and not-so-hidden perils of capitalism since their first contact with Europeans.
There are countless fantastic Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander poets and poems (many of which can be found in the excellent anthologies Whetu Moana and Mauri Ola). One that I’ve been drawn to recently is Kirby M. Wright’s “Aloha, Lili’uokalani,” a sobering lament for a bygone time and disappearing culture.
by Kirby M. Wright
Queen Lili’uokalani, where is our aina?
My memories are a mixture of slack key,
Plumeria, and Kona wind in the trees.
I measure the trades with a desperate tongue.
Kapiolani is a park. Kaiulani is a hotel.
It is no longer enough to watch
The winter tide test the persistence of shores.
Lili’uokalani, do you see what I see?
Do you see my hotel uniform drying
On a balcony overlooking H-1 Freeway?
Honolulu windows burn a thousand suns.
But it keeps raining out at sea.
The rain comes warm, unexpected.
Do you, Queen Lili’uokalani,
Hold back tears for what you lost?
Did you carry your grief into heaven?
Paradise falls to us in pieces,
Pieces governed by the highest bidders.
Their blueprints cover sacred land with walls.
Walls to protect investments.
Walls to exclude the less fortunate.
Walls to keep Hawaiians out.
Kapus make Hawai’i a land of strangers.
Beach access is a narrow path between estates,
A strip of crushed coral and flowering weeds.
Sometimes I see the rich dipping their toes
In the chlorine safety of oceanfront pools.
Dear Lili’uokalani, Hawai’i is fee simple.
Hawai’i is fair market value.
Hawai’i is for sale and already sold.
A shadow falls on Iolani Palace.
Now Kalakaua is an avenue
Ruled by stoplights and crosswalks.
Likelike and Kamehameha
Are remembered only as highways.
The majority encourages progress.
The majority is no longer Hawaiian.