He Wahī Paʻakai: A Package of Salt

adding flavor and texture to your world through story



Photo 2014-04-28 02 30 19 PM

Sometimes it’s a word, sometimes a phrase. But most often it’s a line, just one line. And it sticks with me, stays in my head like a song on repeat. If the line had a melody, I’d hum it to myself as I walked down the street, or I’d sing it out loud (despite my inability to carry a tune), hoping others would catch on. But unlike a song playing over and over again, the lines I usually get lack a melody and I have to let them sit for days, or weeks, or sometimes even longer, until I find myself truly in-tuned and ready to hear them sing to me.

On good days, writing flows. I’ll get more than a line; I’ll get pages and I’ll have to rush to keep up with it. It’s like a song that writes itself: words and melody, arriving together. Perfectly. My fingers move too slowly; my bad spelling and keyboard mistakes only get in the way. And I’m overcome with excitement, with emotion, with energy. It’s addicting.

On other days, though, (and I should actually say, on most days) I’ll get a line, just one line, and it will become my challenge.

I’ve stopped trying too hard to understand it. The lines come when they do and I let them in. Then I observe the way they color my world and I begin to see the lines expressed in everything around me. A few months ago came the line: “It’s hard to see when you’ve got sleepiness in your eyes.” It was a call to wake up, to really pay attention. It was a challenge to be more alert. Suddenly, I became aware of people who’ve become complacent and who seem to sleep while standing up, walking with no apparent upright purpose.

And I began to wonder if I was one of them.

The story that will flow from that line hasn’t been written yet because I’m still living it. I’m still in it, still wiping the sleepiness from my own eyes so that I can truly see.

Sometime before that came the line, or rather the question: “Can two people speak constantly and say nothing?” And if so, it made me wonder, can two people sit in silence, and in the absence of words, say all that needs to be said? I started to think about the old ones, the ones who can tell an entire story without uttering a sound. It’s in the lift of their chin, their furrowed brow, their aged and sun-colored skin, their curious eyes. It made me think about how I use words, how they travel with me as my companions, and how I’ve come to rely on them.

And I began to wonder, with all of my words and lines, if I ever have anything of substance to say.

The story that will flow from that line hasn’t been written yet either because I’m still living it. I’m still in it. It’s pushed me to pay more attention to my conversations with people, to listen to what is being said and what isn’t, and to seek the expressed in the unexpressed.

The power of these lines, these single lines, is that they challenge me as a writer and more so, as a person. I try to find the balance between living a life worth writing about and writing about a life I’d like to live, or the balance between wild word imagination and reality. I think we need a little of both. What the lines do is give me a glimpse into a way to live better, to live deeper, to live with more purpose. And, really, it’s that kind of life that’s worth writing about anyway. It doesn’t have to be big and grand, just meaningful. So I let the lines take me there, towards purpose.

And then, when I find some sort of meaning in it all, that’s what I attempt to share with you: more than just a line, but a journey.

So start with a word, with a phrase, or with a line and see where it takes you. Happy writing.



“You are the mote in my eye”

A phrase of affection.


Waimea, Hawaiʻi


You are like dust.

You are like dust in my eye.

My pulakaumaka*.

We walked over red-dirt roads, our steps sending streams of dust upwards, staining our skin. We marched in a row, side-by-side, our movements in synch like an army. Yet, we were not great in number. It was just us: you and me.

My pulakaumaka.

Many stories have been told about this place. Once, a group of men from another island assembled on the hilltops here, ready to wage war, convinced they would meet with victory. But when they looked out, peering downward, they saw the dust. Like mist it crept closer and closer, growing bigger and bigger, until they realized that the red-tinged clouds that would bring their defeat were accompanied by thousands of steps, the steps of warriors ready to defend.

We walked over those same roads, you and I, in a row, side-by-side, perhaps a bit unsure of—or unwilling to see—what the dust would bring.

For a time we knew that our row would break apart, that the army we assembled would scatter like dust. But we marched on for a moment longer, our steps in synch, creating a cloud of red at our feet. When we paused, it rose, it spread, sticking to my skin, catching in the curls of my hair, filling my lungs. And one speck, one tiny particle, found a spot in my eye.


You are like the dust.

You are like the dust in my eye.

My pulakaumaka.

I cannot blink without thinking of it. It blurs my vision. It captures my attention. It is at once my source of irritation and affection. My fixation. I feel it. I cannot ignore it. It occupies a tiny space on the lens through which I see and greet the world. But, I refuse to let it go, to pōʻalo, to scoop it away, because if its existence—even in the tiniest measure—means that our journey on red-dirt roads was real, then I’ll be content to let it rest there for just a moment longer.

I think I understand, my pulakaumaka, how a source of anger and affection can be housed in the same body, how being called “a mote in my eye” can be like both the breeze of a great compliment and the blow of a hurtful strike. I think I understand how armies of paired opposites never truly travel apart, but are always together, side-by-side, marching. To feel joy is to know sorrow. To have happiness is to greet pain. Both. We must embrace both.

I think I understand


you, the dust,

you, the dust in my eye.

My pulakaumaka.


* For a full definition of the term, pulakaumaka, refer to the online Hawaiian Language Dictionary: http://wehewehe.org/gsdl2.85/cgi-bin/hdict?a=q&r=1&hs=1&m=-1&o=-1&e=p-11000-00—off-0hdict–00-1—-0-10-0—0—0direct-10-ED–4——-0-1lpm–11-haw-Zz-1—Zz-1-home—00-3-1-00-0–4—-0-0-11-00-0utfZz-8-00&q=pulakaumaka&j=p0&af=1&fqf=ED


Museum Musings




He used to stir without being stirred, move without being moved. Even when there was no wind to push him, the feathers he wore would ruffle; they’d dance. Now, there is only glass and a box, a small pedestal and a base. And in that space, he stands, kū, erect, and still. There is no stirring. There is no movement.

He’s been called the feathered god, the feathered god of war. Kū, the snatcher of districts, the snatcher of islands. Into his base of woven ʻieʻie vines are set thousands of red feathers, symbols of status. Feathers—gentle and light—meant to represent something as heavy as battle and conquest. His eyes are made of pearl shell: large, wide, bright, able to peer into the future, able to predict the tides of battle. His mouth is rimmed with dogs’ teeth: ferocious, like he feeds on mana, the mana of his enemies.

He’s been cared for and guarded by some of our greatest chiefs and warriors: chiefs like Kamehameha, whose conquests were prophesized when his mother craved the eyes of tiger sharks while he was still in the womb. And he’s been prayed to by some of the most famous priests, priests like Holoʻae who observed the movement of his feathers, who watched them stand and sway as if pushed by a breeze that never blew. The dance of his feathers could tell an entire army to attack or to lay in wait, to forge ahead in the night, or to rush in the dust of early morning.

He’s been present for both bloodshed and alliance. He’s witnessed the conquering of nations. He’s lived longer than the men who have cared for him, who’ve set him on their waʻa, their canoes, to travel to distant shores, who’ve carried him to their temples, who’ve fed him.

And now he sits in a box, on a base, behind a sheet of glass. No wind. No breath. No movement.

The day I peered into his pearl-bright eyes, something in me stirred, moved. I shouldn’t have been allowed to see him. Centuries earlier I wouldn’t have been permitted to stand so close, to stare at him, to contemplate the sharpness of his teeth, to wonder at the stillness of his feathers. But now I, along with every other person allowed into the museum, could stand just inches away, our breaths fogging the glass.

To some, he’s just a “feathered god”, an image of a bygone era, of a primitive society whose pagan rulers and worshipers naively waged war based on the signs observed in an idol. Yet, to me, he is Kū. He is the one who stands upright; the one who pierces; the one who jabs, pokes, and prods when needed; the one who rises like dust; the one who remains. When we are ready, he will be here, his still feathers finding movement once again even in the absence of wind, revealing moments to lay in wait, revealing moments to forge ahead in the dust of a new morning.

And I will be here, standing, waiting, ready, always, for movement.


* This image above comes from http://www.hawaiialive.org/realms.php?sub=Wao+Lani&treasure=346&offset=0
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