Teal Takayama (2012 Poem In Your Pocket)

Tanaka

by Rick Spreyer

Tanaka,
The sound reminds me
Of Hawaiʻi nei,
The karaoke of the soul.
Kim Soo Lee is singing
Through the microphone
That she holds in tiny, delicate hands.
“Oh, dos Hownoruru shitty yites,
Bing me back a yen.”
It is the Beamer Brothers.
The words are:
“Oh, those Honolulu city lights,
Bring me back again.”
Mama-san sits
At the back of the room
Overseeing red-plastic upholstered booths,
Row-on-row.
It’s another GRAND OPENING,
“Beautiful Pupus! Delicious Hostesses!”
Reads the ad in the Sports Section
Of the Honolulu Advertiser.
Keʻeamoku Street in Honolulu
Housed an impressive number of Korean bars,
And Francis, Willa, and I
Patronized many, if not most.

There was always or often,
Too often to avoid suspicion,
A gala or grand opening
Of Tanya’s or Kim’s or Kitty’s or Debbie’s,
Or whomever’s Paradise Club or Kit Kat Club.
Balloons were prominently featured.

In an office overlooking the harbor and the Aloha Tower,
Francis sat before me
Like the prefect of the emperor.
“You busy tonight?”

We met at Debbie’s.
It was in an alley in Kakaʻako.
Another Grand Opening.
The hostess brought hot towels.
Kneeling, she placed a napkin
On each of our laps.
She brought drinks.
She brought pūpūs:
Boiled peanuts, tuna sashimi, pork ribs,
Stuffed chicken feet, fried tofu, sushi,
Raw oysters, and broiled prawn.
We ate. We drank.

On Sunday early afternoons,
Willa, Francis, and I
Met in the bar dark of a Chinese restaurant
In the parking lot
Of the Ala Moana Shopping Center.
In the lounge, we ate pūpūs, drank,
And fled the island sun.

Francis, I, an honorary usher
Who was too far away to be at your funeral,
Miss you greatly.
To me, in so many ways,
You are Hawaiʻi.

You and Willa met my flights,
The warm scent of orchids
And hibiscus permeated
The hot Honolulu airport.
The baggage carrel was our rendezvous.

On Kauaʻi,
The island on which you were born,
On the Rice family plantation,
You told me of carrying sacks of rice
Up a hill to your house;
Your grandmother, old,
Strings tied to her fingers and toes,
Sitting in the field,
Bells attached to the strings,
Pulling to ring the bells
To frighten away birds.

The banana cream pie
At the Sea Breeze in Haleʻiwa,
Akule on the grill,
The Menehune on Kauaʻi,
The wild pig atop the hill
From which we stared down at Niʻihau,
The boy shouting,
“Kill da peeg, bra,
Keel da peeg.”
And the house in Kahuku
You and Willa visited
The nymphet and me
Just before you died.
For a long while before that
You were depressed;
Your leg hurt.
You couldn’t feel your foot,
And you needed a cane to walk.
Tha diabetes was getting to you.
The booze and your neglect of yourself
Were winning.

I remember sitting with you
On the lānai
Of my apartment at Harbor Square.
Looking out makai, I said,
“When I look out there, it makes me homesick.”
“Why,” you asked, “you from Tokyo, Rick?”

Shinto friend,
I build an altar to you,
My ancestor, my brother

Frederick Spreyer is a writer and a teacher. He holds a Master of Arts degree in English Literature and a Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Education English. He is the author of WINDSWEPT, a book of poems, “Cronies”, a long poem of acquaintance, and a memoir entitled A MAN OF REAL FLAIR: A STORY OF WHEELER DEALERS, MOOCHERS, BLEEDING HEARTS, SOBs, BATTLE AXES, AND ECONOMIC SLAVES.

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Smoke

by Teal Takayama

The night after his death
I went to bed in silence,
more aware of my body,
aware of every step and movement.
I could feel the action in every
solemn joint. It continued that way
for a while, I felt everything
and it was exhausting.
I’d think of that one time when
we were on the back steps,
another cold night. We were
smoking and watching the smoke
drift away above the bushes,
breathing and watching our breath fade.
Then we’d watch it all, the transient white
separating until it disappeared out
of the range of the weak streetlight.
“The way you can tell the difference,” he said,
“is that breath disappears in two seconds.”
He was right, and so for the rest of the time
I would exhale the condensation
and count it, one, two,
gone. Meanwhile he watched,
the smoke from his cigarette carried
high. Now I think about you every time
I see my breath.
I never felt as strongly as you did,
never understood what you were thinking about
when you just watched.
Years later I still don’t know, I’m still
counting breaths while you watch, somewhere,
smoking. I can see your smoke still rising
into the night, past the bushes,
past the trees, higher. Until
it has disappeared out of the light,
out of the range of my vision.
Until it is just the smoke,
separating from my breath,
rising higher, higher,
one, two, gone.

Teal Takayama is from Pearl City, Hawaiʻi. She studied writing under Lois Ann Yamanaka and attended Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. She currently works on federal policy as a legislative assistant in Washington, D.C.

  • Jen

    “Smoke” by Teal Takayama strikes a cord deep within–such truth and such beauty in the simplicity of  a moment observed. I look forward to reading more from this fine poet.

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