Voice from your Child


You promised me

A world, free of battlefields, soldiers, children

Abandoned  in fear ­— hunger —

Children, trembling in closets , amidst gunshot fire.


You offered  Hope,  again and again.

A world, you said, where we will stand

Hand in hand, safe, beyond  color, religion, gender, age,

Agenda — politics free.


You promised me a world

Free of poison in oceans, earth and air.

“You  are the future”, you told me,

“Come and be born in this world I will

Create for you. Trust me.”


My brothers and sisters who believed you

Are now old men and women, and  they wait.

They wait.


Stop using me, your invisible child

For promises and meaningless  rhetoric.


Candles and flowers  now fill  spaces

Where  my friends once lived and played.


Listen to my voice.

See me.

The future is now. Today.

Today. Trust me.



Frances H Kakugawa

To honor all the students who are doing what we adults have failed to do.


For Hilo folks: Basically Books is now two doors down from Ken’s House of Pancakes 1672 Kamehameha Ave, near Waiakea Rec Cent.




Frances H. Kakugawa’s Latest Book Features ‘Poetry for the Ageless”


Kevin Y. Kawamoto

Special to The Hawai‘i Herald


Reading Frances Kakugawa’s poems in her latest book, “Dangerous Woman: Poetry for the Ageless,” is like cozying up with an old friend and talking story. This particular friend has lived a long life and traveled far, literally and in her imagination. Along her journey, she wrote poems. In this, her 14th book, she shares a collection of those poems that she selected for the reader — some of this and some of that, like a literary hot pot — which, when consumed as a whole, offers a complex mix of tastes and flavors.

The poems in the 215-page volume published by Watermark Publishing are divided into five sections: A Poet’s Life, The Enemy Wears Many Faces, The Fifth Season, Collected Poems, and Dangerous and Ageless. They are not arranged in chronological order. In her introduction to the book, Kakugawa writes that to arrange the poems chronologically “would give a false impression that the things I wrote about were happening in some logical sequence, each poem somehow leading to the next and then the next, or building off the previous. The reality is that any of these poems could have been written when I was twenty-one or eighty.”

Those familiar with Kakugawa’s writings through The Hawai‘i Herald know that she has a special place in her heart for caregivers and care recipients. She demonstrates this in books such as “Mosaic Moon: Caregiving Through Poetry,” “Breaking the Silence: A Caregiver’s Voice” and “I Am Somebody: Bringing Dignity and Compassion to Alzheimer’s Caregiving.”

“Dangerous Woman,” however, addresses a much broader swath of themes. Kakugawa has also written memoirs (“Teacher: You Look Like a Horse! Lessons from the Classroom” and “Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii”), children’s books (“Wordsworth the Poet,” “Wordsworth Dances the Waltz,” “Wordsworth! Stop the Bulldozer!” and “Wordsworth, It’s In Your Pocket!”) and poetry (“Sand Grains,” “White Ginger Blossom,” “Golden Spike” and “The Path of Butterflies”).

“Dangerous Woman” has the feeling of a retrospective, looking back at a diverse body of work developed over a long period of time. Her first book of poems was written when she was in her 30s. “Fifty years later, I am still here,” she writes in her most recent book. In “Dangerous Woman,” you don’t always know what period of her life a poem is from, but that — in Kakugawa’s own words — is what makes them ageless.

“Our passionate desire for answers to life’s existential questions, the need to understand our relationship with nature and the world beyond the self, do not diminish with time,” she writes in the introduction.

Kakugawa’s ability to interweave the past, present and future comes through powerfully in her poem “Obaban,” an affectionate Japanese term for one’s grandmother. “My eighty-year-old grandmother stood / On the sidewalk in Hilo, facing Kress Store. / “I wonder,” she said in Japanese, “how / Hilo will look long after I’m gone. / I wish I could stay.”

“Had I been wiser, I would have said — / “Obaban, what if eighty years ago, your mother / Said this to you. She couldn’t stay / So she gave her eyes to you. / Now it’s my turn. I will be here. / I’ll take pictures, Obaban.”

“I stand where she once stood / With my broken promises. Kress Store is gone. / Hilo Drugs is gone. There are no photos. / But I wrote these poems. / Just these poems. I wrote them.”

In three stanzas, Kakugawa takes us back to a bygone time by simply invoking Kress store, the five-and-dime retail department chain that was familiar territory to many of us who grew up in Hawai‘i during a certain era. As Obaban surmised, how times would change. While Kress and Obaban may be long gone, the past becomes the present and the future through the eyes of the young. Like so much in the world, it is an ongoing cycle of life. Kakugawa transposes memories to words through so many of her poems so that current and future generations may see.

Kakugawa has devoted time in her life to not only writing poetry, but also encouraging others to do the same, even if they have never thought of themselves as being poets. In the past, she has written about the healing that can occur when caregivers open up to pen and paper and let the words and feelings flow. To her delight, they did. In “Dangerous Woman,” Kakugawa shows the wide range of themes and topics that can be addressed in poetry: love, fear, disease, nature, regret, hope, history, relationships, places, existence, identity, an awakening of the self . . . and then some.

The poems are of different lengths and styles. Some are only a few lines, like this one titled “Bamboo.”

“Like a man. / It reaches out. / The higher it grows. / The lower it stoops.” Of course, like many poems, there could be multiple interpretations beyond — or underlying — the literal one. Here is another short poem, ever so brief and yet packed with evocation: “He snuffed out his own candle / Left us all in darkness.” Other poems are longer, taking up a full page or more in the book.

The Romantic poet William Wordsworth described poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquility.” The phrase succinctly captures the poetry-writing process, as poets often find a quiet time and space to write about “life’s existential questions.” But some poems are more existential than others, exploring the profound questions of an individual’s reason for living. Why are we here? What are the meanings behind our experiences? These questions should be relevant at any age, true enough, but perhaps take on greater urgency as one ages.

In all, Kakugawa offers the reader almost 200 poems from her large body of work developed over a handful of decades. She hopes there is a poem for everyone in the book, regardless of age.

Readers will have to discover for themselves why the poet titled her book “Dangerous Woman.” The answer lies somewhere in those pages. (When it comes to poetry, sometimes it is best to not explain too much. Let readers excavate their own gems from the treasure chest of words.) It is an interesting title, to say the least, for a Japanese American woman who spent much of her adult life as a teacher. She is fortunate to have amassed 60 years of writings that she can now review and reflect upon, each poem a window into the world as she viewed it at one point in her life. By publishing these collected works, she allows the reader to look through those windows with her, not only to see the world as she saw it, but also to put our own interpretation to that view, indeed to sharpen our own vision.

“Dangerous Woman” has a feeling of culmination to it. In formal education, there is often a class referred to as a “capstone” course — the class taken near the end of a certain segment of one’s educational journey. It is meant to be a culminating experience — that is, to allow the student to integrate a lifetime of learning (up to that point) into one big final project before moving on to the next stage in life. It also allows the teacher to assess whether a student has been able to apply knowledge and skills learned from a variety of courses over time to a project that is meaningful and significant. When this feat is achieved, there should be a feeling of mutual satisfaction shared between teacher and student, as well as, oftentimes, a bit of melancholy, because the successful completion of a culminating project means the student will be moving on, one hopes, to bigger and better things.

Frances Kakugawa’s prolific output as a thinker, writer, teacher, public speaker and caregiver is well known to many. She has not shied away from putting herself “out there,” exposing her soul to the world through both poetry and prose, in published works and in public speaking. She has not played it safe. She has not lurked quietly in the shadows. She has taken risks, and she has lived. In doing so, she experienced, intimately, what it means to be vulnerable and what it means to look back and say with confidence: I did it. And, for that, she has earned the distinction of calling herself “a dangerous woman,” a title she apparently wears with both pride and provocation. In one of her poems she invites you, too, to be “a dangerous woman.”

Kevin Y. Kawamoto is a longtime contributor to The Hawai‘i Herald.



This was taken from my niece’s backyard where I’ll be staying in Hilo.

Ah – Mauna Kea.

Beautiful Mauna Kea

Awaits my return.

t's backyard

Come say hello at two book signings if you’re unable to join me at the above event.

print DW

• Sunday, Feb. 25, 1 p.m.: Barnes & Noble, Ala Moana Center: Poetry reading and book signing.•

Saturday, March 3, 1 p.m.: Basically Books (1672 Kamehameha Ave. in Hilo): Poetry reading and book signing.

Blogs for Caregivers

My blog site is included on this site for people who are caring for loved ones with various illnesses . Please go to this site for the entire sets of blogs from various caregivers.


My own is listed below.

20 Valuable Blogs for Caregivers in 2018

Caregiving for a Loved One, Young or Old, Is an Incredibly Difficult Job. These Bloggers Share Their Wisdom, Helping Any Caregiver on Their Journey

Frances Kakugawa

Frances Kakugawa is a distinguished author and poet, whose experience in caring for her late mother, Matsue – who lived with Alzheimer’s – influences much of her work. 16 years after her mother passed away, Frances remains an active voice in caregiving, and has published four books on the subject – including one for children. She writes a Dear Frances advice column for caregivers in the Hawaii Herald, and her long-standing blog has a vast amount of posts about caregiving, ranging from practical advice to profound poetry.



Happy 2018

New Year. Traditionally,  it is a  time for hope and renewal. I’m going to take a different path here and return to the past. Sometimes, there are life-changing events that need to be revisited again and again. These are the parts of history that would do us best if they became part of our present and the future.   I know each of us hold many such events in our lives. Here are mine:

I’m 18 years old, a freshman at the University of Hawaii, now Hilo Campus. I’m living with a Haole family as a live-in maid, working for my room and board. The transition from Kapoho is earth shattering as I  shift from chopsticks to place settings of  numerous forks and spoons.

What I missed most during these years was rice. The standard sandwich in my new household was made with mayonnaise, lettuce and peanut butter. But for some miracle at Hilo campus,   I had rice balls and okazu for lunch every day for the next 1 1/2 years.   Ella, also a freshman,  must have observed and sensed my drool as I watched her enjoy  her rice ball lunch as I bit into my Haole sandwich. So she brought me a home-made lunch of rice balls and okazu for the next 1 1/2 years before we transferred to Manoa Campus.  She made this lunch for me every day.

(Later when I transferred to Manoa Campus, I ate baloney sandwiches for 15 cents, the most I could afford.   So do not feed me baloney or peanut butter and mayo sandwiches because just thinking of them brings a dull ache to  my gut.)

I knew then, that I would take that daily rice ball and someday return this gesture of such kindness and generosity to someone who needed it as much as I did during those years. Opportunities were in abundance.

I once opened a savings account for a very musically gifted Vietnamese student who was living a life that seemed so hopeless. On his graduation from high school, I cashed in that account for his future plans.

I have observed him from afar as he passed on that rice ball. Once, he invited me to play my flute with him in Waikiki during the holiday season.

“We’ll leave a hat to make money,” I told him. “We can have a good Christmas dinner together.” He laughed and said, “Frances, I was thinking of giving that money to the hungry.”

So that rice ball continues to make a difference in other people’s lives. Last year I fulfilled my mother’s wish. I grew up hearing her voice wishfully saying, “If  I get  rich someday, I want to give a scholarship to someone at Pahoa School.” Last year a student received the first Matsue Kakugawa $1,000 Scholarship.

It doesn’t always need to cost a penny.  There are so many volunteers making a difference in nursing facilities, churches, at the Alzheimer’s Association and other non-profit organizations. During the holidays, I had the privilege of observing an act of pure human kindness.

In a supermarket aisle, a woman who reminded me of a grandmother in a kitchen, baking cookies, snarled at me, “Watch it!” when my cart got close to hers. Dumbfounded, I quickly gave her space.

In line at the post office, I heard a voice in a menacing tone growled to an elderly man, “You’re standing too close to me. People like you shouldn’t be allowed in public.”The closer we got to Christmas, the more distance we seem to need from each other.

At a furniture store, the sales people had their radar turned on full. They swooped in succession. Did they smell cash in my pocket? I shouldn’t have worn my leather coat.  “Thank you, I’m just looking,” I repeated, and walked toward their room displays.

The door opened and another customer entered. I smelled his presence before I turned to look at him. The salesman was on the man in an instant. “May I help you?”

I heard the man reply, “I just want a place to sit.”

I looked twice at him. He didn’t look like cash to me. He was unshaven with that sallow and gaunt look.  His dripping wet thin coat hung loosely around him. He looked like a refugee from Loaves and Fishes ( a refuge for the homeless)  who was out of his realm.

I braced myself for the confrontation that I knew was about to come and prepared to run defense for the man. The salesman looked the man over and then gestured to a collection of pricey sofas.

“Be my guest,” he said softly”. Then as an afterthought, “Just be careful not to wet the furniture.” He walked away. I didn’t buy anything that visit. But you can be sure, when there is cash, I’ll be back to the same store and that salesman.

There is such a need for these acts of human kindness more today than ever before. Some of the best come from complete strangers.

When I first moved to Sacramento 14 years ago, I walked around Arden Fair Mall every morning. I had no friends, except for Red, felt very alone on these walks, often thinking, “What am I doing here.”

Then one morning I ran into the Challenge Butter delivery driver, parking his delivery truck near the mall. He greeted me like an old friend. He was a handsome  young man and we used to chat on those mornings and I felt joy and not so alone. I felt I had found my first friend in Sacramento. We never did exchange names. This ended when I joined the gym.

This morning after gym, I walked over to LaBou Coffee Shop for my morning coffee when I saw the Challenge truck parked outside the parking lot. I told the driver: “Now you’re the smart one by parking on the street. Others park in the lot, blocking cars.”

He said, “Thank you, I know how those guys park.”

As he walked into the restaurant with his delivery cart, I realized he was that same young man of 14 years ago, older now. I asked him if he were delivering at the mall 14 years ago and he said he has been doing this for 23 years. I told him of what he had meant to me; that I had just moved here and never forgot his kindness. He was moved and thanked me. I wrote and sent a copy of this story to his bosses. I hope he not only got a raise but his kindness will be part of the entire personnel at Challenge Butter.

As with every experience in life, there is too, the other side of the coin. For anyone whose past memories are not as pleasant and worth preserving, unlike Ella’s rice ball,  would it be possible to take a negative memory and recreate it into a more meaningful memory to benefit our well-being and those of others?

To caregivers, you may not know it or feel it, but you belong to that very select group of people who live the humanities day after day. In your busy life, you may not know the impact you are making . There is no medal or special ceremony at the end of each day, but know that your acts of compassion and human kindness are being appreciated, observed and learned, and are being passed on to our children and to all who come in contact with you.

What better gift to leave to our future generations than a legacy of knowing what it takes to be a kind human being, and you are all of this and more.

So as another year appears before us, thank you, everyone, for your support and for all the emails and feedback. There is so much wisdom out there, please share yours with us. May our new year bring more dignity, compassion and countless acts of human kindness.  Happy New Year.

By tradition, the Emperor writes haiku for each new year.  I’m no Emperor but here is my haiku to  greet the new year.


bamboo pic haiku



This article first appeared in my Dear Frances column in the Hawaii Herald.