Today is Vietnam War Veterans Day. I honor you all with these two poems. The first was written for a Vietnam War veteran who protected me by walking away. The second is from that war that entered my classroom:

The Wooden Soldier

The wooden soldier marches
As he was wound to do.
Steadily, rhythmically,
Mechanical precision.
The only dislocation
Between manufactured knees.
The wooden soldier marches
Then stands perfectly still,
A soldier no more
But a wooden peg.

But the soldier I know
Keeps on marching.
He keeps on beating
For he has no key
To stop him from seeing
Dislocated limbs
Of children on children.
He has no key
To stop him from smelling
The river of blood
On Sunday afternoons.

Forgive us, O Soldier
For factorizing keys
Only for soldiers
On wooden knees.
Forgive us, soldier
For mechanized birds,
Wooden logs and battlefields.
frances kakugawa
Golden Spike:Naylor Co., 1973
reprinted in my Dangerous Woman: Poetry for the Ageless
Golden Spike

The signs were there: when students need to talk

they hang around my desk, playing with my stapler or

realigning my pencils and pens 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, 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 Dangerous Woman: Poetry for the Ageless


To Wordsworth the Poet fans, please check him out at his own FB page. He’s complaining that no one goes there much. In today’s post, he is complaining how he was not flown first class from Sacramento to Honolulu to Hilo. He also explains how he was created. He’s getting pretty verbal, now that he’s so well-sought by his fans in Hawaii. Do you know Maui has now invited him over to visit their schools to teach them about Alzheimer’s and memory loss?  No, I was not invited.



4 WordsworthBooks.jpgWordsworth, our little mouse poet, will be waving at you from the Alzheimer’s Association vintage purple car at the Merrie Monarch parade in Hilo. Please send us some photos.  He is now the mascot for the Big Island Alz Assoc. Go Wordsworth. He will be visiting libraries on the Big Island soon to talk to our youngsters about our beloved elders.

WW's tail

Good-bye, Julie

Julie me

My dear friend, surrogate mother, and pal passed away a few weeks ago. Below are two excerpts from my forth-coming Kapoho and Beyond book.

…Julie slowly began to evolve into my surrogate mother. After my father died, I returned to Pahoa to live with my mother.  Julie kept encouraging, “Don’t stay here. You’re too young to stay home. Come home when your mama needs you. She doesn’t need you now. Go. I can’t go anywhere because I need to take care my father, so I can look after  mama. Just go.” So I went.

…Julie returned with shocking news. Her father was a strong Buddhist and had, all his life. He chanted the sutras and filled in when the minister when he unable to visit Kapoho. Every night Uyeki-san sat before the Buddhist shrine in his house and chanted the sutras.  Julie  returned a Baptist.

“A Christian,” her father confided in me. “I think she very lonely to become a Christian. I think no Buddhist church in Minnesota.” He  took up the challenge in good grace by studying Christianity to make room for it in his household. Small compromises were made.  Julie no longer offered incense at the Buddhist shrine or at grave sites but she would stand and bow her head, and there was peace between them.

She often tried to convert me with “the only way to salvation is through Jesus,” but I was a Buddhist. Dining out one evening , I talked her into accepting my own version of her religion:  “Jesus said it is okay to drink wine.”  Once I playfully told her, “Oh, God bless you, my child” and she burst into laughter. She was delighted and we would routinely end our visits this way. Julie is now in a nursing home with dementia. On my last visit, I whispered, “God bless you, my child, “and she burst into laughter and said, “Thank you , thank you,” recognizing  a voice from the past.


A Matter of Perception


The weeds have been crying for a weeder for weeks.

Still frozen in my winter lazy bones, I thought surely I can find a way to

get out of this…a little boy came to mind.

When I was a student in College of Educ, the professor demonstrated “how to read a story to 4 year olds.” Before she  could begin, a little boy asked, “Teacher, why is your hair all grey?”

Before she could respond, another boy turned toward the little boy and said, “Her hair not grey, her hair silver.”

So I took off my garden gloves and walked away, “Dem weeds not weeds, dem weeds flowers.”


Thank you, President Diane Woodruff and members of the Sacramento Rotary Club. It was a privilege to be your speaker at your meeting on Tuesday. No, I didn’t wear a feather boa as part of my attire. It was a prop for the following poem found beneath these photos. My message was: In the midst of cleaning my mother’s bathroom floor, once I said, “Maybe there’s a poem here,” I was no longer a  caregiver cleaning  BM off a bathroom floor. I was a poet/caregiver, and that made all the difference in the world.

book table Rotaryfeather boa

photos by John Swentowsky of Swentoswsky Photography.com

A Feather Boa and a Toothbrush


It is 3 a.m.

I am on my hands and knees

With toothbrush in one hand,

A glass of hot tap water in my other,

Scrubbing BM off my mother’s

Bathroom floor.


Before a flicker of self pity can set in,

A vivid image enters my mind.

An image of a scarlet feather boa

Impulsively bought from Neiman Marcus,

Delicately wrapped in white tissue

Awaiting in my cedar chest

For some enchanted evening.

The contrast between my illusional lifestyle

Of feather boas, Opium perfume and black velvet

And my own reality of toothbrushes,

Bathroom tiles and BM at 3 a.m.

Overwhelms me with silent laughter.



from I Am Somebody: Bringing Dignity and Compassion to Alzheimer’s Caregiving



Hawaiian Airlines
Last night I was told I can’t change my connecting flight from Sacramento to Hilo. Airlines rules. They gave me too short a time to make my next flight. This morning I was told changes can be made for $30. Good. Then in the next breath she said, Wait, it’s $835.45. What? I asked for the President’s name and she said this is not allowed. I asked for her manager and this was not given. After I said I was pursuing this with the Better Business Bureau did she change her quote back to $30. I will pursue this with the Airlines President, their Consumer Affairs and Hawaii’s Better Business Bureau and  the FAA. Hope I can find their President’s name on line. Such a time consuming process to make things right.