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Spoiled Brats

I wrote the following poems for members of my Poetry Writing Support Group for Caregivers. Yes, a bit harsh but it had to be said.

                        The Me-First Spoiled Brats

 Spoiled brats who never grew up…

 Complain, file lawsuits and complain:

            Open the bars, I want to go drinking with my pals.

            Open the malls, I want to go shopping.

            Open the restaurants, I want to dine with family and friends.

            Open the casinos, I need some fun.

Spoiled brats who never grew up…

Complain, complain, complain

            The masks are too hot!

            Vaccines are political.

            Open up the gyms, sports arenas and churches

             I want my life  back!

Neighbors and families all over the world

Are dying, dying, dying,

Come, me first, spoiled brats.

Come with me.

Be my guest in the homes of

Caregivers, living with loved ones with dementia.

Live here for a month or two

With caregivers who have been living the isolation

Of Covid-19

Years before the word was invented.

Whatever lives they lived,

 Now redesigned into one of Compassion.

Dignity. Love. Interlaced with the unknown.

All in isolation, without bars, restaurants,

Malls and casinos.

Meals-on-Wheels for many

The cuisine of the week.

The only voice, their monologues.

The only entertainment on TV screens.

The only human contact with medical personnel,

Plumbers, repair companies , social workers,

Medicare and insurance agents.

Yet, yet…

They live each minute, each hour, each day,

 Finding joy in a quiet smile,

A second of recognition, clasped hands.

A 20 minute nap.

A life of not how it should be

But of a life  – it is.

   Frances Kakugawa     

Red Dragonfly

A red dragon fly

Pauses on a garden post

For a photo-op.

A simple haiku

Is all I have, dragonfly,

To seal our moment.

I’m honored to have five of my poems included in this recently published book by Center for Humans and Nature: University of Chicago Press.

Your Inheritance

This Earth you call home

Was not created by chance.

There was no magical wand

To stop man’s inhumanity to man.

There was no magic wand

That kept all life in oceans, air and land

Free and clean

So you could breathe, swim, be nourished

Without fear or grief.

There was no magic wand.

It was I, millions of I’s

Generation after generation

Who preserved, restored, and renewed

This legacy now in your name

For generations to come.

  Frances H Kakugawa: from What Kind of Ancestor Do You want to Be?

I know both my letters to the editors of the Sacramento Bee and the Miami Herald won’t be published. Mr. Leonard Pitts, Jr, in his editorial states: “To our credit, we are a nation that has always united in times of national crisis. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, when the Russians launched Sputnik, when the terrorists flew planes into skyscrapers, we ceased…to be red or blue or black or white. ..we were Americans.”

Mr. Pitts, really? We rose to the occasion after 9/11 and December 7th as Americans? Where is your history? We rose to racism and fear. After Pearl Harbor, have you forgotten the internment camps, the killings of Japanese-American’s and America’s refusal to allow them to return to their community? Have you forgotten how the sons of those in internment camps fought for our country under the 442nd and 100th Battalion while their families were interned as enemies merely because of their faces? Are you aware of the Asian-American attacks today that it took Congress to pass the Anti-Asian Crimes Bill? There are more such  history after 9/11.

May I suggest you read Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown, recently released. Really, Mr. Pitts?

It was an honor to give the main address at the Hawaii Assoc of School Librarians conference. My token below to honor all librarians:

The Poet Librarian: Nurturing Literacy

            There will be no Nobel Prize for what you do,

            No trip to Sweden, no medals, gold, silver or bronze.

            But here you are, librarians, preserving for all generations,

            What it is to be human.

            The years spent, day after day,

            Preserving the word –

            Bonding each of us with one another.

            There you are, hardly noticed among the Dewey Decimals,

            Protecting and preserving, standing against

            The harsh winds of ignorance –

            The bon fires of censorship –

            And the wordless act of forgetting

            Who we are and how we became.

            You, a tour guide for our children, you inspire,

You educate, you nurture, you deliver

The something that makes a difference

Just as you did when I was a little girl

Gobbling up all the words you handed me.

This house you so lovingly keep, waiting to fill them

With each generation’s own sense of wonder, creativity and imagination.

            This, your legacy for ages hence.

            Keeper of our word – and the books in which we live.

                        Frances H Kakugawa

I was recently asked how I felt being Asian during these times:

Born Japanese in Hawaii, my feelings are more adult than when I was growing up after

Pearl Harbor. I cower no more with fear.

               The Enemy Wore My Face

Under the rising sun

The enemy came

Wearing my face.

******

              Eh Jap!

It  claws my spine,

Tearing skin.

It enters my body

To devour who I am.

I spit it out! Bull’s – eye!

So what do you do

With “Eh Jap!”

On your face?

  From my book: Echoes of Kapoho

Earth Day

A Poem Speaks

I am poem…

Mender of broken souls…

I file the edges of jagged nails,

Torn and clawed by human toil.

I take the salt from human tears

And wash out human pain.

I flow the blood caked deep

Beneath each punctured wound.

I take the weary off their feet,

Washing sand grains between toes.

Come, my child, and walk my shores…

I am mender of human souls.

from Dangerous Woman: Poetry for the Ageless

Dead Poets Alive

Growing up in remote Kapoho, I, too, found solace in poets long gone.

            Dead Poets Alive

The dead kept me alive

Confined to a village so isolated,

So unpaved, so un-vehicled,

So battery-run. Our three-party line

A public service gossip center.

The speechless dead took me beyond

Montgomery Ward catalogs, dream-makers

Until one day I discover an oracle

Within the pages, poets long gone.

Promises of wondrous worlds

For the me not yet formed.

Oh, how I mourn that “breath of ecstasy”

To travel that road where dreams can go

Though not so much “in depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach.”

And like a little “nobody” to “lie down

To pleasant dreams.”

It was the dead who gave me such dreams

And showed the woman I’d become

To wander where they could not go

And wonder at what got them there.

My morning still lay ahead, I still “had miles to go.”

And oh, how “I wandered lonely as a cloud.”

   from Dangerous Woman: Poetry for the Ageless

April: National Poetry Month

Sometimes, out of nowhere, someone will send a simple email or a handwritten letter or will follow you out after a lecture to remind you why we write and read poetry.

Etsuko, who is in her 90’s,  attended one of my lectures in Hawaii three years ago and during our writing workshop, she wrote a poem that I later published in my Dear Frances column for caregivers.

Recently she said: You are keeping me alive and giving me joy every day. I read your poems in Dangerous Woman every night and sleep with it under my pillow. I am writing poems now, simple ones.  I have made notes in the book and marked my favorites. These are two of my favorites:

Me

I can hardly be seen

Among the mountains and the clouds.

Just a tiny speck, obscure and small.

Yet I exist.

I exist.

            Identity

Lost and found in

Forests,

Snowdrifts,

Puddles,

And beaches

One can be beautiful.

A leaf –

A snowflake –

A raindrop –

A pebble.

 (from Dangerous Woman: Poetry for the Agless)

 In one of her own poems, she thanked me for hearing and agreeing with her. Yes, her message was clear, age doesn’t turn us into non-persons. I wrote these poems when I was in my 30’s, looking for myself and here we are again with that same plea of “I am still here.”  She hopes to have my book  cremated with her.

From Etsuko:

The Crowing Rooster

The neighbor’s rooster is crowing again.

It’s only 5 a.m.!

Let’s have chicken soup this Saturday night.

        Etsuko Hanamoto

Don is a man I often said hello to at the gym we both attended before the pandemic. His wife drew me to her because she came to the gym during her chemo treatment and was very comfortable with her appearance after losing all her hair. They never grew back. Don wrote saying his wife had a recurrence of cancer and had died in January. She had kept my Dangerous Woman book at her bedside and while cleaning out their apartment in preparing himself to move into a retirement home, he found a bookmark in my  book. It was marked to a particular poem and when he read it, he felt it was the last message from his wife to him. “This has helped me so much in my grief,” he wrote.          

A Happening

A touch

A look

A smile

And that has made

All the difference

In the world,

As my heart

So gently touched

Is lifted to

The cloudless sky.

   (from Dangerous Woman: Poetry for the Ageless)

My first visit to Sacramento came from an invitation to speak at a Synogogue on giving care to loved ones with dementia. I read a few of my poems to support my message on humanizing the lives of caregivers and their loved ones. An elderly woman followed me out after my lecture.

She: Your poems made me cry for the first time since I was 15. My heart has been frozen until now.

Me: What happened at age 15?

She rolled up her sleeve and showed me the tattooed numbers on her upper arm.

I gasped and could only say, “Talk to me.”

She told me her story: She was 15, her father and brothers were already taken away by the German guards and she would never see them again. She was alone with her mother when their physician came with a piece of paper. “You’ll be safe,” he told them, “See, I wrote those guards a note that your mother has heart problems and won’t live long so they will leave you alone. And I have signed this as her doctor.” The woman said how happy she was, knowing they would both be safe since the statement was written on the doctor’s stationary. Soon the knock came on their door and she proudly showed the paper to the guard. He laughed, tore the sheet and tossed the pieces into the air and took both of them away to Auswitz.

When they arrived, her mother was taken to the left and she was forced to the right. She cried that she wanted to be with her mother and she was told, “You will see you tomorrow. She’s going to the hospital to get treatment.” The next morning she asked to see her mother and was told she was receiving good medical care. Finally, after days of encountering the same responses, a woman in camp told her, “See that smoke stack there? Your mother is in there, you’re not seeing her again.” And she never did.

“I vowed on that day,” she said, “that I would never ever cry again. My heart was frozen that day and I have not cried until today when I heard your poems.”

 I wrapped my arms around her with tears covering my face, “Crying is good, isn’t it?”

She said, “Yes,” followed by “thank you.”

And sometimes, it will come from a young child in your classroom.

Golden Spike

The signs were there: when students need to talk

they hang around my desk, playing with my stapler or

realigning my pens and pencils until there is privacy

for courage to emerge.

“Sometimes”, she quietly started, still playing with pencils,

“I get up at three in the morning and hear my dad crying.

I go downstairs and he’s sitting on steps, crying in the dark.

He was in the Vietnam War; He won’t talk about it

but I watch him cry a lot.  He can’t sleep.

I know because I always see him on the steps.

I wish I knew how to help him.”

Damn! Here’s that war again.

No child ought to be wakened at 3 a.m. by a father’s tears.

No child ought to be sucked in, to twenty five year old wars.

No child ought to have dreams of brightly crayoned images

disrupted  by black ashes.

I wasn’t trained to undo the nature of war.

I didn’t know how to banish the phantoms of war.

Maybe…maybe…I gave her a copy of Golden Spike.

“I wrote these poems about the war.

Maybe your dad will find this book helpful.”

A few weeks later, she wrote in her class journal: Private to Miss K:

My dad is always reading your book.

He carries it around with him and he’s not getting up anymore,

he’s not crying anymore. Thank you for helping him.

Is it okay if I keep the book a bit longer? He wants to know,

did you know someone from the Vietnam War?

“Yes”, I wrote in her journal,
“Tell your dad I knew someone just like him.”

On the last day of school, once again she stood near my desk.

“I’m sorry for not returning your book, but my dad

is still reading it. I hate to take the book away from him.”

“I gave that book to both of you. I’m so glad

my poems help him.”

She held on to our hug, whispering,

“Thank you, Miss Kakugawa.”

( from Echoes of Kapoho: Watermark Publishing)