Posts Tagged ‘Kilauea Volcano’

The Sea Meeting Pele

He explodes

Into a million


As her fiery tongue

Laps into

His undulating loins,

Sizzling and burning

Every ecstasy.

frances kakugawa

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HI H Pahoa storyTo people of Kapoho and Pahoa, the Hawai’i Herald generously used my story on Madame Pele’s visit to both these towns as their cover story. My open letter to Pahoa, and an excerpt from my Kapoho book may be of interest to you. Thank you. Yes, that’s me on the porch in Pahoa village during my last visit in September.

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Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles

I looked at the empty chairs in the theater, thinking, ” Kapoho girl  does good if these seats are all filled today.” The seats weren’t all filled but there would have been  SRO if the emotional impact  of the afternoon had filled the  spaces.

Once again, there were Kapoho faces from long ago. Tommy Wataru Shimizu who attended the session at Torrance Library two weeks ago was there, saying he wanted to hear me speak of Kapoho again. His family was the first to get a bicycle and his younger brother Iwao had spent most of his summers  at our house. When he joined the Marines, his photo was displayed in our living room until he returned. He visited my mother with flowers when she was in the nursing facility. She no longer knew him then. He called me Pride by request, remembering how I had renamed myself,   but that story is for another day.

Diane was a toddler when I knew her in Kapoho. She and mother Eva visited us often. I had a story to tell Diane. She loved grapes and called them dwapes. She told me a little secret of how she always told her mother, “I’m going to be a teacher like Frances.” She’s an actress today. So she fulfilled one of my dreams instead.

Patty Nishi bought three copies of Kapoho for the children of Ruth Uyeno who was born and raised in Kapoho.  The image of Mrs. Uyeno comes to mind clearly as if it were only yesterday.

Leanne, daughter of Ella whom I had met in college, touched me deeply to know the new generation was there to nurture her mother’s friendship with me.

What a surprise to meet Facebook friend and daughter of Andy Hayashi of Pahoa, Darlyne Fujimoto in line for book purchases.

Now, if you were in L.A. to attend a wedding all the way from Hawaii, would you give up a Saturday afternoon for a lecture? My cousin’s wife, Carolyn Takahashi, did and she brought other members of her family.

Guy Aoki and loyal members of MANAA ( Media Action Network for Asian Americans) were in  attendance once again as in Torrance.

I can’t thank  all who came. My gratitude to the generous woman who bought a dozen copies of Kapoho for members of her book club. They meet over dessert so I hope Kapoho receives more attention than their dessert next month.

To everyone who dared to drive on the day a major freeway was closed in L.A and to the  people from Hawaii who shared their stories of living in internment camps after Pearl Harbor, you have your own stories to preserve.

Ms. Alexandra Giffin, Dr. Koji Sakai and all the volunteers at the Museum made this happen.

Leslie Yamaguchi  wrote  the following most generous interview that appeared in the JANM newsletter.

“You made Kapoho come alive for us again.”  “You gave Kapoho back to us.” I heard this over and over. I regret not having had the time to ask each former resident, how they made their home in CA after the eruption.

Yes, Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii has taken a life of its own, rejuvenating memories for residents who thought them buried under magma for good.  Yes, Standing Room Only.

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Kapoho’s book launch from Hilo , Hawaii

Found our old house lot in Kapoho

It was more than books sold, more than number of people who stood in line at my book signings.  It was, what Kapoho has always been…her people.

Ninety one year old Suzuki,  a conductor on the passenger train we called Motor Car came to both signings. He was a young rascal to us Kakugawa kids who rode the train for free since my father was working for the railroad company. Wilson would ask us, “Where’s your ticket?” As a child, I always  wanted a ticket to be punched like the other kids. Suzuki is now Wilson, he took his mother’s name after Pearl Harbor. He came with a sheet of paper, with most of the names of the families who were living in Kapoho before the eruption. An incredible man and he even wore a jacket!  He told more stories of Kapoho to other people from Kapoho who were in presence.

Suzuki, a.k.a. Wilson, my sister and me.

Jimmy, in his 80’s said, “I read about Frances Kakugawa but you are still Hideko to me.” We were neighbors in Kapoho and bought adjoining lots in Pahoa after the eruption to remain neighbors. I visited him at his home.

The Kapoho Lighthouse: lava stopped a few feet around the lighthouse to keep the light burning.

His sister, Julie, in her 80’s , invited my sister, niece Tammy and me to lunch at her now Pahoa home.  She took us on a tour of Kapoho where we found our old house lot. We had an old Vee apple tree in our backyard and it was still there, growing above the other trees, a welcome home sign. The area is now overgrown with coconut, ohi’a, ferns and other growth. Only the acres near the ocean are black lava.

George, in his 90’s , a  former policeman came with a book in hand to be signed. I’m not sure he was the policeman in my story “The Kindergarten drop-out.”

Misae, classmate from Kapoho, attends all my book signings. Misae and I were neighbors, we played cowboys, baseball and danced Bon dances throughout our Kapoho years. When we quarreled, we still went to school together, each of us walking on opposite sides of the road.

Many of the original residents are now gone but their children or grandchildren or in-laws or relatives came along with strangers interested in a place now under lava rock. And friends from long ago years.

There are still original buildings still standing. We met the New Kapoho residing in these homes. The new Kapoho, I call them, mainland Haoles now living in Kapoho. They came to learn what the old Kapoho was like, they said,  and left with book in hand with a vow to preserve the spirit and humanity that was once Kapoho.

   Kapoho, under lava rock…………

                 The Kapoho Tree created by niece Tammy.

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Last night, we had the launch for my new book, Kapoho, at the Native Books store at Ward Warehouse. (I’m so sorry; I told some of you it was at Ward Center!) The store set us up in an alcove outside which they dressed up with festive poinsettias and Hawaiianprint tablecloths on the refreshments table.

I read excerpts from “The Enemy Wore My Face” and “Once There Was a Kapoho.” My publisher, Watermark Publishing, brought punch and pupus for everyone to enjoy after the reading.

The gentleman in the picture to the right was born in Kapoho, too! His son saw my book at the store on Tuesday, bought it and brought his dad back to meet me. He’s in his nineties and we both recognized each other’s family name; when I was a girl we used to swim on his family’s property at Pohoiki Beach.

Yesterday, Wayne Harada also wrote a review on his blog for the Star*Advertiser:Excerpts:

[Frances] was always primarily a poet at heart but a storyteller in general, and she lived through tough times, enduring some of the fallout scars of being of Japanese ancestry, in a post World War II era when local Japanese often were maligned because of the bombs that fell at Pearl Harbor.  Over the years, she has evolved as a savvy ambassador of caregiving, conducting workshops for those burdened with the task of caring for a loved one, and writing about her use of poetry to ease the pangs of the grips of Alzheimer’s.

You can read the rest of Wayne’s blog here.

I have one more signing on Oahu this weekend: Saturday, December 10, at Barnes & Noble at Kahala Mall, from 11am – noon. I also have several more events in Hilo next weekend. Read my previous blog post for all the dates, times and locations. I’m even conducting a writing workshop for people who want to write their own memoirs!

And here are more photos from last night’s reading and book signing:

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I’m very excited about book #10 coming to you this Fall

Pre-order from : Watermark Publishing : sales@bookshawaii.net

or signed copies from the author herself: fhk@francesk.org

Or meet me in Hawaii and/or  L.A./ Sacramento,  for book launch: Info to follow soon.

Down town, Kapoho, before lava destroyed it all. The billiard pool, the store and theater run by generator.

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A Book Review

I picked this book up because first, it was written by one of the most brilliant and humanistic writer/person I know, and second, because my hometown was destroyed by Kilauea Volcano when I was 18 and I was curious to see if there would be any similarities between Pompeii and Herculaneum and a simple plantation village in Hawaii called Kapoho.

Pellegrino took me not only to the sites of destruction by Mt. Vesuvius but to the Titanic and to the Twin Towers on 9/11, with side trips to Hiroshima. He took my hand and pointed out the incredible similarities in the sciences of how things happen and the strange connections among these sites of destruction. He hid nothing, exposing the weaknesses and strengths of humanity and as a bonus, into his own awesome personal journey . He took me on a time machine, to Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79, down to the Titanic in 1912 , to the Twin Towers in 2002, and to Hiroshima in 1945 and dropped me off in Kapoho.

Not being of the scientific mind, (I turn to the comics first on Sunday mornings and prefer to think magic takes care of the unknown), I didn’t expect such a fascinating trip. I wept, laughed, gasped and froze in awe, as I read each word of this genius of a storyteller. The most astonishing thing was, I understood what I was reading. I was stunned at the similarity in human behavior in people of my village to the Romans in A.D. 79, to passengers on the Titanic and the unforgettable people of 9/11.

Aw, come on, you’re probably thinking, how can a little village be compared to such historical events and sites? Because when your own village is destroyed by lava and earthquakes, it is as significant.

I stood in front of my freshman speech class in college during the Kapoho eruption and blasted the students who spoke of the beauty of the eruption while my village was being destroyed. For the rest of the semester, a stranger paid for my snacks and coffee at the coffee shop.

I wrote a paper for my Sociology class about the sudden physical strength of people who could lift stalled cars to help clear the road in the evacuation. I wrote a paper for my English class titled, “In the Base There is Good,” honoring one villager who was labeled the bad egg, and potential criminal of the village. He was the last to evacuate because he remained to help others load their household furniture into trucks.

I created a unit of study for the Hawaii State Public School System Literature Program, on Madame Pele, the Goddess of Fire who is believed to live in one of the craters. My father, out of respect for Madame Pele, accepted the erroneous radio announcement that our house was covered by lava by saying, “IF Pele wants my house, she can have it.” This was preceded by his total denial that it was our house.

My grandmother was the first to lose her house, and stories spread that it was punishment because she must have refused Goddess Pele some fruits from her yard. Why else would her house be the first in the path of the lava flow? The belief in Goddess Pele was stronger than any feelings of sympathy and empathy. The Japanese called it “bachi.”

Goddess Pele was believed to take many forms; often as a white dog or an old woman. Myths, acts of denial and bravery and even strange happenings that can’t be explained through scientific data, were common threads among all of us from Pompeii to Kapoho. We had different names in Kapoho because of our Hawaiian beliefs like Pele’s tears (threads of glass) that also fell on the Roman cities.The howling of dogs in Kapoho were the first signals for disaster just as the cats disappeared from the Titanic.

So how do I draw you into this book? I can’t, except to say, you must experience this yourself, just as I can’t do justice to the first yellow burst of that daffodil in our front yard right now after weeks of heavy fog and rain, by telling you it’s beautiful.

If this book doesn’t humanize you, nothing will.

Ghosts of Mt. Vesuvius DVD and book are also available on the History Channel. I’ve ear-marked over 35 pages because they gave me pause over the author’s story-telling skills, the humor, the language, the poetry, the humanity, the scientific content and people stories. I hope to discuss these pages with you someday which includes author’s own art.

On a personal note, after certain chapters, I returned to my own writing and rewrote or I would like to say, improved my own writing craft. It’s this kind of a book.

I feel way smarter now, too. Come talk story with me after you read this book.

The following comments came in from Red Slider:

fhk – I’d have written more, but I’m out of breath.


I give “Ghosts of Vesuvius four stars, based on the small flaws that other reviewers have already treated (some of them arguable). I give it a solid five stars (more if they had them) for entirely different qualities which other reviews have not mentioned and, perhaps, not noticed.


When seen through the lens of what Gregory Bateson first called a “Metalogue” (a text or conversation in which the form resembles the content), an entirely different standard of appraisal must be granted this volume. GV, its content, is about nearly unimaginable catastrophic events, the big-bang, the demise of the dinosaur, enormous discontinuities of evolutionary process, the largest volcanic explosions known, the 1.6 kiloton fall of the World Trade Center. And, equally about the storms of debris and ejecta that accompanied these events; not only rock and ash, heat and glass, but the bits of human history, artifacts, culture, reaction, myth and story, horror that were cast out from these blasts and buried deep in the human psyche, as much as on the land and in the skies overhead.
It is a book about blast columns and their collapse, of unbelievably destructive surges and pyroclastic flows, of cataclysms which not only disrupted both physical and biological nature, but which enveloped it, tumbled it, threatened it with extinction, scared it into entirely new directions, humbled it and permanently changed it; from the time of its stellar origins to the texts of its religions and sciences and civilizations and politics.
Viewed from that vantage, GV, begins with the all embracing “Call them Alpha and Omega”. In its own giant blast column it tosses  Fermilab and hadron colliders along with rusticles and proto-humans high into the air of its theme; tumbles ancient religious texts with fragile churches on the circumference of 9/11, fragments human presence in the surges of history with biological flotsam flung over the whole of creation; picks through the ashes of Pompeii and the currents of the deep ocean at the grave of the Titanic and cradles the hearts and tears of first-responders and forensic archeologists as they comb the ruins of 9/11 looking for small shock cocoons in which might be preserved some remnant.Something that might explain, might reveal the true nature of what perished on that day.
It stretches back in time, epoch by epoch, to the unimaginable grand-daddy of all cataclysmic events, the big bang, and then slingshots us forward through the creations of Civilization, the first appreciations that slavery was a shameful and unworthy aberration, the shadowy history of the collision of religions, the clutch of a doll, the heroic sacrifice of a nameless soldier who perished 2000 years ago and one who did the same ten years ago; of the perfectly preserved shadow of an ancient rose and of an equally intact credit card plucked from the dust of complete devastation, still readable.

Some who reviewed Pellegrino’s work were disappointed. It wasn’t about the Roman Empire, or volcanoes and Vesuvius, or Pompeii, or the WTC catastrophe, or their favorite or expected subject. They complain that it “drifted” or “got off topic” or was “stream of consciousness”, “digressive”, “repetitive”.  It seems obvious why some would make such complaint.


I don’t believe Mr. Pellegino intended this work to be about any single subject or to fill in anyone’s gap in their knowledge about some specific slice of history or particular event.  I believe he meant for us to come upon it the same way he does, as a forensic scientist examining the aftermath of a catastrophic event: examining, wondering, supposing, connecting small fragments of history and humanity and space and time as he came upon them.


It is not for its author to put it all together into one neat narrative, complete with its beginning, middle and end.  Rather, I believe he leaves it for us, the forensic reader, to take these pieces, splayed out into the book like the surge of some original catastrophe. The text as metalogue.  It is our job to examine the pieces, to ask, “what does this thing found over here have to do with that thing over there? Indeed, the author cannot tell you what narratives, insights, understandings a reader will find in the debris of GoV, any more than the dead of Pompeii will tell you exactly what was going on at the moment they were buried in 60 feet of hot ash – what was going on, what the different objects scattered around mean or how they relate. He couldn’t even predict what you might find, as reader.


Only that if you just see it all as unrelated scatter, it will look like a mess, a drift, a fragmented work that digresses and goes “off topic.”  But if you dig and examine and wonder and imagine, then perhaps you will arrive at something resembling the same joy he experiences when he digs through the ruins of who we are and what happened to us along the way.


There is one serious shortcoming of the work, about which Mr. Pellegrino could do nothing.  It was published long before March 11, 2011. The tragic catastrophe of the Japan tsunami and earthquake certainly need to be included to finish the work. But it is an error that can be corrected, provided Mr. Pellegrino’s publisher will insist that he revise the work for a new edition.  It won’t be an easy task. He can’t simply tack on a chapter at the end of it and call it done.  He will need to sift and scatter the experiences of that catastrophe, its sorrows and heroics,  throughout the book in keeping with the metalogue that it is. Nothing less will do.

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