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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)

April

The poets, in droves

Lick their pens, salivating

Over metaphors, turning

Death into life. It must be

National Poetry Month.

fhk

During one of my poetry writing sessions with 3rd graders, this was my contribution. Not quite up to par with my students’ poetry.

A Poet’s Declaration

I am a star

In the Milky Way.

I am the crest

On emerald waves.

I am a dewdrop, crystal clear,

Capturing sunbeams in the morning mist.

I am that dust

On butterfly wings.

I am that song

Of a thousand strings.

I am that teardrop

You have kissed.

I am a poet!

I am! I am!

I am that rage

In the thunderstorm,

I am that image

Of a thousand form.

I am magic on each page.

I am a poet!

I am! I am!

©Frances Kakugawa

Thank you, Basically Books, for including my book for Women’s History Month, in this ad you ran in the Hawaii Tribune Herald.

The Reed Family has generously introduced all my 16 books at their bookshop with book signings and readings in Hilo, Hawaii, since 1969.

This past Christmas, a friend sent me a gift box of oil and vinegar from Saratoga Olive Oil; they were the best on salads: Basil Olive Oil and Cranberry Pear White Balsamic. I ordered a few more bottles today of varied types. Look at the email I received. Yes, this may be a form letter but I read it as a personal one and know I will continue to do business with these folks. Do give it a try. Their products are wonderful. This is the email I received.

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Is a little learning really a dangerous thing?

My teachers from grades 1-6 were high school grads, the college grads never reached our Kapoho village. I had three teachers during these years, combinations classes in three buildings with a fourth as a cafeteria kitchen.

Perhaps because they needed to pass time, they read to us a lot. I heard The Iliad and the Odyssey in fifth grade. We also wrote a lot since that took time, too. Our stories were sent to magazines and a few of us got published. I was suspended from fifth grade once for writing a detailed nasty note about my teacher. And yet, before I left sixth grade, she said, “Don’t ever stop writing.”  We also made vegetable gardens to sell their products to the cafeteria. We all had an hour’s nap under the trees after lunch. I hated these naps.

What is a mystery now is, we heard and read a lot of stories of our history of slavery. I ached for families being separated on the auction block, the scars of lashes on their backs and the cruelty of inhumanity to humanity. I got sucked in to these books and read and reread them until the next new book appeared. Where these books came from, I don’t know. There was no library nor did the bookmobile go to Kapoho.

We also had one music book, a green covered song book by Stephen Foster. So we sang all the songs of slavery and plantation life from Masa’s in the Cold Cold Ground to Swanee River to which we tap danced. Did these teachers who saw us as deprived children so isolated from the real world, feel they could only humanize us in preparation for life outside Kapoho? And they used black history to teach us?

Is a little learning really a dangerous thing?

My teachers from grades 1-6 were high school grads, the college grads never reached our Kapoho village. I had three teachers during these years, combinations classes in three buildings with a fourth as a cafeteria kitchen.

Perhaps because they needed to pass time, they read to us a lot. I heard The Iliad and the Odyssey in fifth grade. We also wrote a lot since that took time, too. Our stories were sent to magazines and a few of us got published. I was suspended from fifth grade once for writing a detailed nasty note about my teacher. And yet, before I left sixth grade, she said, “Don’t ever stop writing.”  We also made vegetable gardens to sell their products to the cafeteria. We all had an hour’s nap under the trees after lunch. I hated these naps.

What is a mystery now is, we heard and read a lot of stories of our history of slavery. I ached for families being separated on the auction block, the scars of lashes on their backs and the cruelty of inhumanity to humanity. I got sucked in to these books and read and reread them until the next new book appeared. Where these books came from, I don’t know. There was no library nor did the bookmobile go to Kapoho.

We also had one music book, a green covered song book by Stephen Foster. So we sang all the songs of slavery and plantation life from Masa’s in the Cold Cold Ground to Swanee River to which we tap danced. Did these teachers who saw us as deprived children so isolated from the real world, feel they could only humanize us in preparation for life outside Kapoho? And they used black history to teach us?I was that kid who yearned for Hollywood, Paris and New York City, believing I was having the worst of education in our village school. Perhaps not.

I was that kid who yearned for Hollywood, Paris and New York City, believing I was having the worst of education in our village school. Perhaps not.

Happy New Year Haiku

New Year Haiku, 2021

( apologies…I can’t post this haiku with the right spacing no matter how many times I tried…)

   Kadomatsu greets

   America, ah, blessings

   from eastern wind, yes.///

   three immovable

   bamboo, roped and held for strength

   yet, fragile in wind.  ///

          

   green pine from knotted,

   snarled fingers of a bonsai,

   a thousand year life///

   ‘neath symbolic greens

   the Emperor’s golden sunburst,

   a chrysanthemum///

   such blessings, New Year,

   from simple pine and bamboo.

   a happy new year.

      Frances Kakugawa 2021

My make-shift kadomatsu from my limited Sacramento yard.

Thank you, Readers

Thank you, dear Blog readers, for your loyal support of my blog. Please know I’m most appreciative of your devoted friendship. Here is my “worse than fruitcake” holiday letter.

2020  pulled a fast one over me. When it came in as Year of the Rat, and my being born in the Year of the Rat, I expected a super wondrous year. You are on your way out, 2020,  leaving us a pandemic unimaginable. I won’t allow you to have the last sneer, so here it is, a celebration of 2020 inspite of…

We have been in locked down since March. I’ve filled the gas tank of my Honda only twice since March. All purchases are being delivered to our porch which go through a sanitizing process. All meals are prepared by me. My hair makes me look like a witch, a great savings on new wardrobes, manicures and pedicures. Have lost all social graces and have been dressing above my waist for ZOOM appearances. And Amazon has become my Santa Claus, dropping off packages and boxes weekly.

My plans to be in the Monarch Festival parade in Hawaii with my literary mouse Wordsworth was cancelled. Book signings for my 15th book, Echoes of Kapoho, in Hawaii and Sacramento were cancelled. Speaking engagements, all cancelled.

Managed to do a virtual reading of my two children’s books for the Hawaii Alzheimer’s Assoc. Did a virtual lecture/writing workshop for caregivers,  poetry readings for the Northern CA Publishers/authors. My two interviews on my work with caregivers appeared in two newsletters. All this without leaving my home office. And I facilitate my monthly poetry writing sessions for caregivers  through ZOOM.

The saving grace for 2020:

  1. My fifth Wordsworth the Poet children’s book was accepted for publication.
  2. My first two Wordsworth books have been made into a musical stage play, now scheduled for 2022 due to the pandemic at the U of Hawaii theater in Hilo, HI. I’ve read the script, heard the music and I’m speechless at the talented creators.
  3. Nice surprise in September: My Echoes of Kapoho book was awarded the Best in Fiction Memoirs by Northern CA Publishers/Authors.
  4. My book #16th was published. Title: The Kindergarten Dropout of Kapoho. A few stories from my Kapoho book was published; to be used in a memoir writing project by my publisher. Do get in touch with Watermark Publishing if you wish to write and publish your memoirs under guidance.
  5. Have had poems and stories published in two anthologies by the Northern CA Publishers/Authors: one on Travel and the other on Holidays.
  6. In December, five of my poems were published in an anthology published by the Human and Nature Center: University of Chicago Press. Title: What Kind of Ancestor Do You Want To Be? This international organization of scientists and scholars work at preserving our human and natural resources. I’m the simple poet.
  7. This year reminded me why we teach. To former students and parents, thank you for getting in touch. A former first grader from Michigan, now in Maryland, even sewed me face masks. I’m sorry I lost a former talented first grader musician to the Corona virus as I did a dear friend in NYC. 

I’ve never read so many books, about 50 books at this writing. Shows you how much time I have on my hands. My book club adds titles I would never have read. Red built me a little “gym” in the backyard, a covered structure where I use the treadmill, listening to NPR or CD’s of music of my era, and a massage table to do more exercises. I stopped walking around the neighborhood after a man tried to rob me of my mask in April.

California is in a dire state so it looks like another year of lock –  down. What a strange way to end my holiday greetings to you. Wear your mask, get vaccinated and stay safe and sane. And may the new year bring us a bright light at the end of the tunnel and may we all live safely and kindly ever after. And 2020, get out of the way, please, so we can welcome in the new year with renewed hope. Take good care. Frances

December 7

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 Echoes of Kapoho: A Memoir

A new Anthology

I’m honored and humbled to be included in this anthology published by the

Human and Nature Center: University of Chicago Press. Five of my poems appear

throughout the book. The Human and Nature Center is an inspiring organization working on

preserving our human and natural resources.

My publisher, Watermark Publishing, is having a big December book sale for the holidays. Several of my books are included, so you can get 30% off my memoir books and 35% off my Alzheimer’s caregiving books. Shop online at www.bookshawaii.net and use code HOLIDAY2020 to get the deals.

Also, for those of you who want to try your hand at memoir writing, my publisher has launched a new program called Hali‘a Aloha (it means “cherished memories” in Hawaiian). If you already have a memoir in progress, this is a good way to fix it up and have it published. If you don’t have anything written, the self-guided program will take you from blank page to finished book in about nine months.

The series editor, Darien Hsu Gee, and my publisher said that my memoir writing in Kapoho and Echoes of Kapoho was a perfect example of the types of short “micro-memoir” work the program is built on, so they asked to use excerpts from my books to create an example of a finished Hali‘a Aloha book. It’s called The Kindergarten Dropout of Kapoho. If you already have Kapoho or Echoes of Kapoho, you don’t need to buy this one (everything in it is in Echoes), but it is a good, small gift item! You can buy at Bookshop.org or you can buy a special set that includes my book and the two other first books in the series from Watermark’s website.

The Hali‘a Aloha program has an introductory special going on where if you sign up and use the code HALIA2020 you can get $250 off the Basic Package and $500 off the Signature Package. You can learn more about the program at www.haliaaloha.net. (Darien used a lot of advice from me about writing in her book, Writing the Hawaii Memoir, and you get a copy of that book included when you enroll in the Hali‘a Aloha program.)