He Wahī Paʻakai: A Package of Salt

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A Thin Black Book

She had never heard of Maya Angelou.

So I placed a thin black book in her hands, the cover revealing small pink and blue designs in a sea of night. It was my favorite book, a book of four poems. As she took it from me, I glanced at the words “Phenomenal Woman” strewn across the dark cover and smiled. I smiled knowing that she’d come to love the book as much as I did, that the pages would one day become worn like my own copy, the copy that often got caught under my pillows as I let Maya’s words be the last thoughts I considered before—and perhaps even long after—I shut my eyes.

“When you learn, teach.

When you get, give.”[1]

I had “learned” and “gotten” so much from that thin black book that I started buying multiple copies of it, always having an extra at home so that I could give it away. Then, whenever I sensed another woman in my life needed to be reminded of her “phenomenal” nature, or needed inspiration to “rise,” or needed to know that they were never alone but that they stood “as ten thousand”[2], I’d grab a copy, scribble a message on the first page, and give it away.

It became my favorite gift, for in the giving, I’d get to watch one more woman be empowered by words. When she said she’d never heard of Maya Angelou, I knew that she needed to: needed to hear of her, needed to hear from her, needed to hear with her.

So I placed the thin black book in her hands and felt my heart smile. I hoped she’d read it as often as I did, that the words would seep into her skin, and that they’d become so much a part of her that she’d forget that she didn’t write them herself. I hoped that she’d never again bow her head at the thought of her own inadequacies but that she’d come to celebrate her perfect imperfections. I hoped that every time she fell down that like dust or air she’d rise again, stronger, more confident, carrying the gifts that her “ancestors gave”[3] her. And I hoped that whenever she’d be challenged, that whenever she’d have to fight, that whenever she’d have to battle to save a piece of herself that her words would match those of Maya and that her heart would shout out: “I shall not be moved”[4].

She had never heard of Maya Angelou. Now, years later, she celebrates her. We all do, for her words became the words we’d use to color our experiences, to give us perspective, to become like the small pink and blue designs that brought life and texture to a sea of night.

We celebrate you Maya, and we thank you, from one phenomenal woman to another.

 

[1] From “Our Grandmothers” (lines 67-68)

[2] From “Our Grandmothers” (line 84)

[3] From “Still I Rise” (line 39)

[4] From “Our Grandmothers” (lines 26-28)

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Wake Up!

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You can’t see the stars like that, girl, not when you’ve got sleepiness in your eyes. Rub them. Wake up! ‘Eleu. I don’t have time to wait for you. We don’t have time to wait for you. Too many generations. Too many have been slept away. Now look.

Yes, it’s dark; it’s cold. But this was never going to be easy. You knew that. And my job is not to soften things for you. We have too much to lose for softening. Maybe that’s why you preferred to sleep all these years. When you ignore the presence of the stars, when they are blocked by the ceiling of your mind, you can rest peacefully. Oh, but I won’t let that happen. Wake up, girl. It’s time.

I’m doing you a favour. I know it doesn’t seem like that now. But, I am. I wish someone had done this for me. I spent years sleeping. Now I can’t escape the stars. I search for them even when they are drowned out by city lights. I long for them even when the sun is shining. You’ll never be able to ignore them again, not when you really learn to see them. And you shouldn’t.

Wake up. Look up. Imagine yourself out there, among them, part of them. You know you aren’t really separate from them, right? Every space, every single space, is filled with memory. So it connects. Never divides.

Now what do you think? No, I don’t want to hear what you’ve read. Forget that now. What do you think? Don’t just recite, girl, ignite. When you give me memorized words with no meaning, that’s when you’ve begun to lose. Ignite that na‘au, that gut-feeling. Tell me what it feels like.

I’m not trying to be mean. I push you because that is aloha. Forget that tourist rubbish. My aloha means that I care enough about you to not let you sleep for another generation. So wake up, girl. We’ll stay here until you can give me something of depth, even if it means we have to stay here until the sun rises. In fact, maybe that’s what you need. When you can’t see them anymore, that’s when you’ll feel them and know they’re always there.

Ua moku ka pawa. The darkness has broken. We’ve been here all night. You didn’t sleep. But there’s no use being awake if you can’t react, and can’t be moved to act. Act. Wake up!

What’s that? You have something to say? Tell me.

That’s true. I was never really speaking to you, girl. I was speaking to that part of you inside that is old, that is so much older than both of us. That’s the part of you that had to be awakened. You know you’ll never be able to put that back to sleep. And you shouldn’t. That’s what will guide you. That’s the part of you that will always seek the stars, searching for the spaces of the universe filled with memory. Let it ignite you. Too many generations. Too many have been slept away.

Now look. It’s time.