Coral Road: Poems
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Garrett Hongo’s long-awaited third collection of poems is a beautiful, elegiac gathering of his Japanese-American ancestors in their Hawaiian landscape and a testament to the power of poetry, as it brings their marginalized yet heroic narratives into the realm of art.
In Coral Road Hongo explores the history of the impermanent homeland his ancestors found on the island of O‘ahu after their immigration from southern Japan, and meditates on the dramatic tales of the islands. In sumptuous narrative poems he takes up strands of family stories and what he calls “a long legacy of silence” about their experience as contract laborers along the North Shore of the island. In the opening sequence, he brings to life the story of his great-grandparents fleeing from one plantation to another, finding their way by moonlight along coral roads and railroad tracks. As his grandmother, a girl of ten with an infant on her back, traverses “twelve-score stands of cane / chittering like small birds, nocturnal harpies in the feral constancies of wind,” Hongo asks, “Where is the Virgil who might lead me through the shallow underworld of this history?” In fact, it is Hongo who guides himself—and us—as, in these devoted acts of recollection, he seeks to dispel the dislocation at the center of his legacy.
The love of art—making beauty in however provisional a culture—has clearly been a guiding principle in Hongo’s poetry. In this content-rich verse, Hongo hearkens to and delivers “the luminous and the anecdotal,” bringing forth a complete aesthetic experience from the shards that make up a life.
terror—magisterial above me, a lesson in mute stone. Lost across the river one day, The Arno we had trucked along from Pisa to Scandicci, I entered a chapel’s opened door and saw a garden without sin, Then the apple and Eve’s voluptuous snake of her own face, Her love of Self displacing God’s, And then the aggrieved flight from earthly innocence. I felt my own shame then, Masaccio, Faithless and without gardens of my own, No history and a people who had worked only the cane,
letter carrier in Vancouver. Not Cousin Trish in West L.A. or my mother in Gardena by the card clubs. Hardly anyone except the wind that mutters none of our names, Except waves from the sea that pound the breast of the earth. Gulls cry and pipers scumble at the running tide on the sands of the point Scrubbed clean of ash from the dead, traces of grief from the living Drenched in blackened windrows ribboning against the last gold light. It is said they worshipped in the cane fields at
Honolulu Weekly: “Holiday in Honolulu.” Kenyon Review: “Kubota to the Chinese Poets Detained on Angel Island,” “Kubota to Nâzim Hikmet in Peredelkino, Moscow, from Leupp, Arizona,” and “Kubota on Kahuku Point to Maximus in Gloucester.” Louisville Review: “A Map of Kahuku in Oregon.” Ploughshares: “Kawela Studies,” “Cane Fire,” and “A Child’s Ark.” Poetry Northwest: “The Festival of San Giovanni.” 6moons.com: “Bugle Boys.” Slate: “Pupukea Shell.” Virginia Quarterly Review: “Kubota Writes to
And we rage against the whites and the promises This land made to us it would be a heaven of gold mountains. Hard living through confinement—our families not near, Interrogators trying to catch us in stories That do not match what your immigration papers say, That do match lies informants have said about me. Can you remember how many steps to the duck pond? How many houses were south of the village well? Which order brother died in the Year of the Ox? They ask me about the ink
feet in transcendent recognition, Pure acceptance. And I cannot tell my life from yours, Pablo, My suffering from your subterranean joy up from volcanic depths Of molten rock and the sheer, underwater cliffs of the sea. I rise up with you, American brother, from the deepest Reaches of my crushed hope, I take up your feathered hands Which lift me, like a great bird skimming lucent jewels From the sea, into these new, fresh days of my vernal life. Kubota on Kahuku Point to Maximus in