the shark dialogues-kiana davenport

never say you’ll never steer someone wrong. but know that this is subjective-when dream hampton speaks, i usually listen. i put this on my list when she tweeted about it in the fall (i think), and it was an absolute pleasure to read this family history at a moment when i was considering my motivations around honouring tradition while questioning inheritance for my character development for the musical. during this time, i saw the whistleblower and was inspired to contact an old women studies’ prof who is involved in the fight against global trafficking of humans, and we had a great email exchange about the pros and cons of that movie. i’m on hold for the book at the library (yes, i’ve re-activated my holds list) and the very first reading i ever did for her class was one complicating the idea of welcoming tourists and outsiders (like dole) in hawaii, which brings us back to this book; a leitmotif of which is tongues in cheeks, and quite a few teeth.

Can’t even talk to ‘feminist’ professors…the ones who see local women as ‘minority women,’ abstracts. Never ask us about our rage. How we manage to get through the day without killing. Where do we live, how do we eat? And breathe? Come on home, bitch. I will show you things. I begin to cultivate a who-can-I-knock-down-look. I begin to understand oppression….” (194)

We shared a life, a magnificent tapestry made up of scraps. When you’re only allowed the scraps, life burns deep into your soul, every word, every curve of light you see, is a sacrament. He was my life. The father of your mothers. I broke all the laws, risked everything, health, prison, dogging submarine torpedoes going to him in the war. He was my destination. He is still my destination. Where I go each month…” (331)


2 thoughts on “the shark dialogues-kiana davenport

  1. dating in poetry, marrying in prose:

    “Grandfather wasn’t sure he believed in Fate. He couldn’t say they’d been destined for each other. But they had found each other and never let go. They were true. Grandfather said he believed that’s what love was. Enduring. Beyond reason. I think love replace their need for religion. If they had been religious, maybe they wouldn’t have loved so deeply…” (462)

    “Then one night it came to her that all these years the thing unknown, the faceless voyeur, was her husband. He had watched her, kept her at bay, so she would never have enough of him, never now him entirely. In that way she would never outgrow him, never grow bored with him. He would be her sickness, obsession, her judge and executioner. She would want him unto death. She thought of him now in the gentlest way, felt ignoble before him. He was suffering. He had always suffered.” (266)

    “Now he saw that her writing was bolder but less beautiful, the speed and pressure of handling the brush was more obvious, less abstract. There were decorative junctures, almost academic twists in the structure of her characters, but there were not aesthetic to the learned eye. And in the white of spaces, there was no sound, nothing bloomed. He saw she would never embark on /shodo/, the Superior Way of Writing, she would always be engaged in /shuji/, the mere Practice of Letters. She had turned down another road, she was moving in her own direction. He saw she had no conscious knowledge of it, no real control of it. In her mind, she would always be waiting for him in their house overlooking the sea.” (272)

    “…/Maybe time doesn’t heal. Maybe it doesn’t even pass. We pass through time, and come out stunned, so rage, and memory, are blurred./” (220)

    “Ah, /pomelos/! Like giant grapefruits stuffed with scent. Inside coarse yellow skin, white flesh thick as fillets smelling like gardenias. And under that, veiny grapefruit sections like big prawns containing globules green as peridots, and pink, like rose quartz. The wet, glittery green was sour, but the pink was sweet as sugar cubes. One could not stop sucking. The sour made you hungry for the sweet, which sent you back to the sour. Afterwards, the strenuous ritual of peeling and eating one of these monstrosities, Jess would rub the flesh across her cheeks, feeling her face tighten. For days her hands and arms would smell of gardenias.
    Sometimes she woke before dawn, leaned from her window, yanked a /pomelo/ from the tree, and lay it on her pillow like the scented head of a lover, one that required nothing and would not wound her.” (227)

    “/My tongue burning, shaping itself to compromise, take crumbs from another woman’s life. My body burning, knowing it moves and pleases, swallows, another woman’s husband. Nothing can help me now. My cells are hooked, holding on, holding fast. I am a woman who holds fast. I think of Rachel and her unspeakable marriage. Alike, we are alike. Dumb, with a floating serenity of blind intent, loving out of all reason. Our drowning shadows waiting for our drowning…” (197)

    “Pono watched the couple, pollinating each other with little deeds, endless conversation. She saw how life could be, one human brushing against the other each day, every day, refining one another, giving one another stature. She saw how in their small yard they had created an oasis, keeping the great risk of the world at bay. She envied them their smug and careful little life. She wished them dead.
    Her own life was hazardous. Four growing girls, bills, sleepless nights, the one thing really important to her occurring in shadow. Some nights, she longed for Duke so badly she woke wounded all over, her body aching. Next day she would abuse the girls, slap or ignore them, make the three oldest eat in silence while she fed the infant with disdain. /Fatherless little bastards, wondering where he is. Who he is./ When they finally summoned up the nerve to ask, she told them their father worked the gold mines in Alaska.” (154)

    “Nothing they did could shock each other. They stood side by side as equals not needing to experience things other experienced, not even needing to go out in the world, for they had their own mythology. Pono talked him through her history, all the way back to Mathys Coenradsten, and he saw how her family had erased itself through the generations. His had done it in less than five years.” (107)

    “In one week they were married, spending their honeymoon on the steamer headed for the Big Island. During the night while her husband slept, his skin tatooed with her virgin blood, Pono crept up on deck, feeling her life slide into a new phase, feeling breathless, as if God were standing beside her, and somewhat terrified, as if he were about to lean over and bite off a hunk of her cheek.” (97)

    “She was fond of her husband, Valentine, humoring him like a child, knowing in her heart that was not a great love. He was handsome, fearless in the saddle, but when his feet were on the ground, he was just a cowhand, an overgrown boy with no concept of her dreams, her intuition. All he could offer were rodeos and love songs, and all he asked of her were meals and the animal comfort of her body, making him feel a man.” (98)

    “If, on solitary evenings, she brooded over a tiny jade book with faint Empress fingerprints, and if she thought of its companion volume lying in another’s hand, and the warmth of that hand, it was only in the way one remembers a met glance, someone glimpsed who ghosts through our lives forever.” (59)

    “Much later, Kelonikoa woke, thinking how she must teach her husband many things. How to prepare a wife for love, how to arouse her, make her moan with longing, how to enter her in candlelight, or torchlight, sunlight or moonlight, so they could see each other’s pleasure in the eyes. These were lessons taught Polynesians in early adulthood, because to them sex was a natural, beautiful act, not something performed in guilt and darkness. Her last thought before she slept was that she must teach her /haole/ husband how to bathe, and to do it often.” (44)

  2. legacy:

    “Arriving in late spring, the girls were always given separate rooms. Pono didn’t want them mixing up their dreams. But, later, while she snored, their white sleeping sarongs licked the dark like candles as they explored secret rooms, lagoons of the forbidden, then tumbled into a big koa four-poster, mosquito net like albino skin muffling their laughter. Concentrating their attention, they would examine each other, compare changes each year had wrought, Jess’s new body odor, the way Vanya’s breasts were forming, the way hair grew under arms. They were half of each other’s blood; what happened to one happened to the other.” (8)

    “The way Pono bullied them, yet favored them, regarding Vanya and Jess as gypsies, addicted to lives of drift, one or both of them showing up randomly, like unexpected animal parts in one’s soup.” (13)

    “But there were nights without laughter. When he boasted to guests of the enormous success of his saloon, Kelonikoa fell silent. A large percentage of native Hawaiians were being killed by alcohol. Kamehameha III had died of it, and possibly the reigning king, Kamehameha V, would, too. Polynesians had no tolerance for liquor, became easily addicted, and some of Mathys’s steadiest customers were natives. She never said a word, watched silently as Mathys hired men to manage his livery stables and caulking business, bankers to oversee his sugar interests, while he held court at the Bay Horse Saloon. The more he retreated into that world, the more she broadened hers.” (56)

    “Pono couldn’t tell them what she saw in dreams. The slums would grow into ghettos, sub-cities of Honolulu. The future would kill them. By now, white monopolies controlled every aspect of the sugar and pineapple business. Banking. Insurance. Utilities. Merchandising. Transportation. Shipping. Labor. Some people went back to slave work on plantations. Some gave up altogether, never worked again.” (88)

    “Cane-burning season began, the air filled with black smoke, sky blistered a vicious red as fires burned off leaves of ripe sugarcane, leaving sappy stalks ready for harvesting. Day and night, silhouettes of workers masked like bandits moved through fields, black figures chasing torches. They staggered back to camp in relays-smoky, singed couples sticking together like taffy. They fell asleep parched with the heavy smell of braised sugar and burnt human hair. From the big house, Calcados’s wife watched them at all hours, a woman left alone.” (122)

    “Except for the hideous disfigurement, rotting flesh, the loss of sensation, of limbs, of sight-and stigma, and death-it was a good life.” (131-2)

    “She prospered from dreamtelling, no longer needing to sew for a living. But sewing was tangible and real, and she wanted Holo to see her doing normal things, not selling dreams to strangers. She was attendant to the child, sliding life to her in small portions, what to do, not do, how to behave in public, and alone. Mostly she taught her to honor the dignity of things-money, thread, material.” (145)

    “The child grew instantly alert, as each night her mother examined Holo’s body, studying her skin, her back, her scalp, even between her toes. She was looking for shiny parts, for holes. When Holo fell and slashed her knee, she took needle and thread and crawled into a closet. Pono found her there unconscious, lying in her vomit. She had tried to close the cut, stitch the hole, so Pono wouldn’t throw her away.” (146)

    “Even in prayer, somehow she had resisted God by not believing. And God had paid her back.” (165)

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