I’ve never met Haunani-Kay Trask, but I’m lucky to be surrounded by many of her friends, students, and colleagues. I’m lucky to teach at the institution where she fought so hard to carve space not only for native Hawaiians, but for all indigenous Pacific Islanders. Being in the presence of her spirit demands that we too sustain a spirit of passion, creativity, resistance, power, and fierceness. We, too, must continue to carve space for those that will come after us.
I’m thinking about Trask because last Thursday, I attended “For a Native Daughter: Honoring-Kay Trask,” in Honolulu, sponsored by MANA Student Hui, MANA Wahine, and Na Wahine Oiwi. According to their Facebook page, the organizers aimed to honor and publicly acknowledge how Trask “inspired and shaped so many of us and in some cases gave birth to our Hawaiian political consciousness.”
I first came to know Trask through her poetry collections: Light in the Crevice Never Seen and Night is a Sharkskin Drum. I loved her memorable images, unapologetic rhetoric, multilingual threading, and unbreakable rootedness in her native culture, genealogy, history, and struggle. Her words are, indeed, “spears, storms of light, chattering winds of hope.” She taught me that poetry can be political, dangerous, powerful, and beautiful all at once. She taught me that being a native poet wasnʻt enough, that being a native poet also meant striving to be a scholar, activist, and educator.
As I work on my third collection of poems, Iʻve returned to Traskʻs work. One epigraphs of my book quotes Traskʻs poem “Hawaiʻi”:
Near the estuary mouth
heiau stones lie crushed
beneath purple resort
in the native
heart of darkness.
This passage opens a section of my third book about Tumon, the tourist center of Guam–a place that some describe as a “mini-Waikiki.” Not only does the passage above create an unforgettable image of heiau stones crushed beneath purple resort toilets (and what a nice touch highlighting the color of the toilets and all that color might signify in terms of royalty and toilet-as-throne), but the poem also gave me a way to see Tumon and other colonially exploited places: as “Civilizationʻs fecal vision.” Images and phrases like these echo far beyond the pages of a book.
Another Trask poem that surfaces in my next book is “Racist White Woman.” That poem helped me write a poem about anger, hatred, and violence–something Iʻve never really done before. It wasnʻt the images in that poem though; it was her “sworn Black promise.”
Anyhoo, I was happy I could join the 100 or so people who attended the tribute, including many of Traskʻs ohana. The organizers opened with a slideshow of many powerful–and some now iconic–images of Trask. They also showed a few videos from folks who couldnʻt make it to the event, including professors and community leaders.
Many of those who testified on stage spoke about how Trask inspired and changed their lives in real and symbolic ways. A few of them even said that they moved to Hawaiʻi from the continental U.S. because of Trask. So powerful that her words had the power to bring her people home; to politicize, educate, and empower them; to speak the truths that others were too afraid too speak. “We are not American. We are not American. We are not American.”
While I did not know all the poets who read during the tribute, I did take pictures of those I did know. Above are pics of Kealiʻi Mackenzie, Noʻu Revilla, Brandy Nālani McDougall, and Candace Fujikane. Their poems were so moving–filled with so much aloha for their kumu and friend. The last picture is of Traskʻs sister, Mililani–whoʻs an important Hawaiian leader (and a stand up comedian!).
Thanks to all the organizers and to all those who shared their voices. And saina maʻase to Haunani-Kay Trask, for the light and drum of your words.