"Pupukea Shell"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
May 10 2011 6:58 AM

"Pupukea Shell"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Garrett Hongo read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

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I think of the old Pupukea Shell station on Kamehameha Highway—
Two pumps; '60s glass and concrete architecture; a roll-up two-car garage front;
Mortise-and-tenon awning; and the great, yellow pecten langfordi,
Short collar under the fanlike ribs, floating like a child's painting
Short collar under the fanlike ribs, floating like a child's paof a sunrise
Above the straightaway seafloor of asphalt road just past Chun's Reef
Short collar under the fanlike ribs, floating like a child's paalong the North Shore.

It never meant the corporate name to me, but rather the moon in summer seasons,
Its only competitor for luminescence nights we drove the highway back
Short collar under the fanlike ribs, floating like a child's pafrom Honolulu.
And those nights on the Fourth when cousins would hand me sparklers already lit,
Then a huge toad, dry and cold in my hands and on my shoulders,
Then an amber strip of dried and sweetened cuttlefish, chewy and aromatic. 

It was owned by relatives—the Yoshikawas, sturdy Moloka`i people married
Short collar under the fanlike ribs, floating like a child's painto us Shigemitsus,
who hosted the summer gatherings of the matriarchal clan at their gas station
Short collar under the fanlike ribs, floating like a child's paand grounds—
out back a Meiji-style peaked and fluted roof house,
out bacsplendid lawns, plumeria trees, and plants at the property lines.
This is near Shark's Cove, where all the tourists and some locals snorkel now,
Diving for bubbly glimpses of blue fantailed fish,
Divingschools of yellow tangs, and the rotor-finned humuhumu.

When I see it these days, boarded up and rusting,
When Ithe window glass of the office spiderwebbed with cracks,
The pumps gone like pulled teeth and the timbers and underside of the awning
Blackened with mildew and spotted with blooms of a brown, fungal scourge,
I remember that a pair of lovers met there once—a shopgirl and a dark local boy
I rememwith long, black surfer's hair reddened by the sun.
He wore jeans and a brown shirt that said "Cecilio" across his breast,
Had the thick, calloused hands of a laborer, but eyes that shone like light
Striking the sandy bottom of the sea in the soft waters of the lagoon just offshore. 

He wrote in a small copybook every day,
He wrote in a small copybook everyscribblings and verses on his lunch break,
His bare feet wicking in and out of the blue rubber sandals he wore
His bare feet wicking in and out of the blue rubberas he bent over the pages.
He'd take the night shift, summer or winter, keep the lights on and pumps going
For all the locals and tourists till past midnight, frogs singing, the air cool as thought.
It was the only station open past 6 on the whole North Shore,
So it got the business of commuters to town and all the straggler tourists
So it got the business of commuters to town and all theheaded late back to Waikīkī.
Cecilio liked the inconstant flow, the chance to meditate between customers
As he scanned lamp-lit eyes over the pink lagoon at sunset, imagining whatevah
As he scin the silence of cormorants,
Black pens dipping their yellow beaks into the magentaed seas.

Once, just before closing, when Cecilio was at his desk bending over Creole                    
Once, just before closing, when Cecilio was at his dpentameters,

A wanderer came by on foot, tapping at the glass of the office, making him glance
Away from his strange, literate work. 

Away from his strange, literate work."I saw a light," she said, uncovering her hair,
Which she had shielded beneath silver-gray silk.  "And I've lost my way. 
Can I rest here a while?"

But from where did she come? this haolefanciulla dressed in thin, black clothes,
A shawl like a Portuguese grandmother's,
Chinese dancing shoes made for acrobats buckled at the back,
Skin like goat's milk fresh in the pail, and black, black curly hair?

She was a vision like the Mary who gave the virgin birth
He knew from Catholic School, and like the stories people told of Pele,
The goddess testing the mortal by taking human form.

The goddess testing the mortal by taking human formBut she suppose' to be ol' …
Cecilio said within, rising from his battered chair, its wooden legs scraping
Cecilio said within, rising from his battered chair, its wooden legsthe concrete floor, 
His breath growing shallower to witness beauty immaculate amidst the mundane.

"My name is Lucia," she said. "I paint island flowers on beach glass. …
I embroider orchid boats on linen seas …" 
"My name is Lucia," she said. "I paint island flAnd the midnight half-moon
Rose like a spreading, silver fan floating on the ink-dark ocean of the sky.  

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Garrett Hongo's new book of poems Coral Roadis forthcoming in fall 2011. He teaches at the University of Oregon.

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