Rachel Ana Brown
Published with Permission
“Bamboo Ridge: Journal of Hawai‘i Literature and Arts No. 91”
(Bamboo Ridge Press, 2007)
It hasn’t rained for four years.
Mom has one of her boyfriends
hook the bathtub drain to a pipe that leads to the yard.
A plastic trashcan collects the cloudy turquoise runoff,
smelling of Aussie shampoo and White Shoulders perfume.
Every morning, like a yoked ox,
she lugs heavy buckets of blue bathwater,
waters the ferns, the segos, the arecas in the black plastic pots.
Later on, the dying, gasping ‘öhi‘a trees,
one full bucket for each gray ghost grasping weakly at the rock.
“There you go, babies,” she reassures them. “Better now?”
Nights of crisp, brittle stars.
Days of milky blue sky and stringy gray clouds.
Our own water from the tank tastes thick and unwholesome.
If a poor thirsty ‘öhi‘a tree manages to spit out a blossom,
some dry and chalky lehua with no sweet nectar for us to suck,
we pick it. Pray for Pele’s tears.
It hasn’t rained for over four years.
Our ti plants all died. They needed too much water.
Mom says we’ll get ti from Wai‘öhinu Park this year,
to make my May Day skirt.
We show up with buckets of dryland flowers,
lehua from the woods, crown flower from behind the library.
“Let’s sit far back,” Mom says.
They whisper about her as we pass,
all the Hawaiian and Filipino moms who buy their dome from us,
who all pretend that they don’t smoke.
“Go get leaves.” Mom sits to husk the crown flowers.
The plants on the playground are picked over,
so I slip through the hole in the back fence,
and slide down the gulch to find the huge ti,
with leaves almost as big as me.
“No go down there!” my classmates squeal.
“Alanka ukulele, we telling!”
“I no care!” I shout back up.
Mom always says, don’t touch anyone’s dope, but go wherever you like.
Can find better things to eat deep in the woods, anyway.
Thimble berries. ‘Öhelo. Down in the gulch, liliko‘i and guava, wetland fruits.
“Any for Mommy?” I give her a mango and some purple berries.
“Taste sour,” I critique, “but no give the runs.”
She trusts me.
Don’t eat the white things. Red only if you know for sure. Most bluish things are okay.
Mom turns her back to the crow and lights a joint.
Gives me a puff. Peels me a mango.
Her thumb is green from ti sap.
I lie down on the grass
and she dumps the crown flowers on top of me.
Everything looks soft and purple now, like being inside a cloud pregnant with rain.
I know she’ll make me a beautiful skirt
With a crown flower and lehua waist, and a thick haku to match.
Graduated strands of pïkake for my lei, too, if her bush hadn’t died.
Some kid will tease, “What, you go Merrie Monarch?”
because their moms will just make
ti on a fishing line, plumeria lei on thread.
Plumeria wilts before the May Day court even walks out.
Haku can last for years, dried out but still thick.
The hula teacher, her kids get haku, too.
“Stand up, let me measure.”
Ti strung on hemp, twisted with lehua.
I twirl around, the leaves flaring out juicily.
“Good,” she says, “now I’ll make the head lei.”
It’s not her fault she’s a haole,
cannot say haku or pua kenikeni.
No need say, I figure, if you can keep alive through
what turned out to be thirteen years
of praying for rain, for Pele’s tears. Getting none.
Hauling bathwater around the yard.
Her shoulders were as big and knotted as mountains.
Her hands were tough and wrinkled like pähoehoe.
She left footprints in the earth forty thousand miles deep
to hold sweet groundwater through droughts.
When it finally rained,
she cried. Pulled handfuls of lehua off her ‘ohi‘a
and hurled them up in the thundering air.
Rachel Ana Brown is a writer from the Big Island. She currently lives in New York City.