Eric Chock
Published with Permission, From “
Best of Bamboo Ridge” (1986)

I was in love with the word “aloha”
Even though I heard it over and over
I let the syllables ring in my ears
and I believed the king with outstretched hand
was welcoming everyone who wanted to live here
And I ignored the spear in his left hand
believing instead my fellow humans
and their love for these islands in the world
which allow us to rest from the currents
and moods of that vast ocean from which we all came
But George Helm’s body is back in that ocean
I want to believe in the greatness of his spirit
that he still feels the meaning of that word
which is getting so hard to say

I thought there was hope for the word “aloha”
I believed when they said there are ways
in this modern technological world Oahu alone
could hold a million people
And we would become the Great Crossroads of the Pacific
if we used our native aloha spirit
our friendly wahines and our ancient hulas
They showed us our enormous potential
and we learned to love it
like a man who loves some thing in gold or silver
But these islands are made of lava and trees and sand
A man learns to swim with the ocean
and when he’s tired he begins to search
for what he loves, for what will sustain him
George Helm is lost at sea
The bombing practice continues on Kahoolawe
I want to believe in what he was seeking
I want to believe that he is still swimming
toward that aina for which he feels
that word which is so hard to say

I want to believe in the word
But Brother George doesn’t say it
He doesn’t sing it in his smooth falsetto
in the melodies of aloha aina
There is no chance of seeing him walk up to the stage
pick up his guitar and smile the word at you across the room
The tourists, they twist their malihini tongues
The tour guides mouth it with smog-filled lungs
Politicians keep taking it out, dusting off the carcass
of a once-proud 3 syllable guaranteed vote-getter
You find its ghosts on dump trucks, magazines
airplanes, rent-a-cars
anywhere they want the dollar
They can sell you anything with aloha and a smile
even pineapples that came here from
(you guessed it) America!
They’ll sell you too, servants of the USA
And if you don’t believe they have the nerve
think of the ocean
They put up signs as close as they dare
And when his spirit comes back to land
the first thing he’ll see is a big sign with that word
painted on, carved in, flashing with electricity
That word, so hard to say

I was going to believe that word
I was going to believe all those corporations
that seemed to spring up like mushrooms after a light rain
I was going to believe when they divided up
the home-land of a living people
and called it real estate or 50th state
or Aloha State
I was going to believe we would still be able
to go up to the mountains, out to the country beaches
to the ocean where waves wash the islands
the islands which remind us we’ve all traveled a
long way to get here
We all wanted a garden of our own in the world
We believed we’d all have peace
(and a piece of the aloha and of the state if we worked for it)
We’re all pursuing the same dream!
So many of us are trying to get to the mountains, the beaches
So many trying to swim in the waves
legs kicking, arms paddling like the arms
of George Helm stroking towards a familiar beach
which he respected and belonged to by birth
for which he felt something no word can express
except for that word which is hard to say
unless we all live it!

I want to live the word “aloha”
But the body of George Helm is lost at sea
the practice continues on Kahoolawe
the buildings follow the roads
the roads carry thousands of cars filled with people
following their dreams of Hawaii or Paradise
to Waikiki where girls sell their hips
singers sell their voices
the island which has been sold is lit up all night
while the king with outstretched hand
has forgotten how to use his spear
George Helm is dead
and that word is not forgotten
It rings in my ears every day
I want us to live the word “aloha”
but it’s so hard just to say

Postscript: On Jan. 4, 1976, Moloka‘i native George Jarrett Helm Jr. — who Eric Chock refers to in his poem — was among nine young people who launched several small boats from Mä‘alaea Harbor in South Maui to the “target island” of Kaho‘olawe, a roughly seven-mile crossing. It was the group’s first attempt at stopping the bombing of Kaho‘olawe, which began in World War II. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower had conveyed Kaho‘olawe to the U.S. Navy.

That first “occupation” resulted in the formation of the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana, led by Helm. The ‘Ohana continued to make unannounced occupations of the island, frustrating the Navy and the federal government. The group also filed numerous lawsuits against the Navy in federal court.

Helm, who had grown up in the homestead of Kalama‘ula, Moloka‘i, attended St. Louis High School from 1965 until he graduated in 1968. He also played the guitar and shared his rich falsetto voice with audiences at the now long-gone Gold Coin Restaurant at the west end of Kapi‘olani Boulevard.

On March 7, 1977, Helm, then 26, and Kimo Mitchell, 25, disappeared while returning to Maui from Kaho‘olawe. Their bodies were never found.

Despite their loss, the bombing of the island continued. However, opposition to the Navy’s use of Kaho‘olawe as a “target island” was building in Hawai‘i, and in 1990, President George H.W. Bush ordered a halt to the bombing. Three years later, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye sponsored legislation authorizing conveyance of Kaho‘olawe and the waters surrounding the island back to the state of Hawai‘i.

In 1994, Kaho‘olawe was returned to the state of Hawai‘i and the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission was established to manage activities on the island.


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