“Whea You From . . . And Whea You Going?” Poets from TJ Mahoney & Associates Ka Hale Ho‘āla Hou No Nā Wāhine The Home of Reawakening for Women
Featuring: Amourelle Diane Dioné Jessica Kimmy Kitty Maryann Stacey University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
A Note on the Blog
In November 2013, I had the pleasure of attending an event at the Honolulu Friends Meeting House that my former classmate Amalia B. Bueno had helped to organize for her creative writing students. Titled “Whea You From . . . And Whea You Going?” the event showcased local writers and, especially, the works of poets from TJ Mahoney, Ka Hale Ho‘āla Hou No Nā Wāhine, the Home of Reawakening for Women. What an incredible event it was. The poetry was beautiful; the love exchanged from and to the many poets in the room wrapped its arms around us all, creaking on folding chairs. The messages from the TJ Mahoney poets were ones of resillience, healing ourselves and our communities, recovery, humor, and more. I was so grateful to have been there. When the event came to a close, I walked out into a warm, Mānoa evening breeze feeling stunned, so inspired, and the words of beloved Audre Lorde bright in my mind: For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Indeed. In our writing, agency lives. And, that agency is everything. The following pages feature poetry from the TJ Mahoney poets who I heard perform their pieces last fall and more. Read them carefully. Anjoli Roy, 2013–2014 Editor in Chief Copyright © 2014 by the Board of Publications, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Hawai‘i Review University of Hawai’i at Mānoa 2445 Campus Road, Hemenway Hall, Room 107 Honolulu, HI 96822 Phone: (808) 956-3030 Fax: (808) 956-9962 http://www.hawaiireview.org www.bit.ly/submit2HR
Introduction by Amalia B. Bueno
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Where I’m From by Diane Just Me, Myself, and I by Stacey My Place by Amourelle Ku‘u Mo‘okū‘auhau (My Family) by Dioné Good Sister, Bad Sister by Amourelle Letter to Self by Kimmy Unbreakable by Kitty I Am by Maryann This Life Is Not for Her by Dioné Shame by Kitty Shame by Jessica Tomorrow by Maryann You Could Move Back In by Kimmy The Argument by Maryann Like You, I Am Not Sure Where It Has Gone by Jessica
Introduction by Amalia B. Bueno
I believe that words have the power to create change. So when I volunteered to teach a creative writing class to incarcerated women who were preparing to leave prison, I had high hopes. I hoped that through creative writing, each student would find a voice of her own and strengthen a collective voice that speaks to loss, change, and growth. I hoped that through reading poetry and stories, they would see themselves and make sense of the world as they know it. And, by thinking and writing about women’s lives, each could claim her place in the journey to change her life and reconnect with our communities. The women I teach are residents at Ka Hale Ho‘āla Hou No Nā Wāhine, a residential, transitional community administered by TJ Mahoney, a nonprofit organization that runs the only “halfway house” for women in Hawai‘i. TJ Mahoney’s 30 residents were previously incarcerated at the Women’s Community Correctional Center, the State’s only prison for female offenders. Of the 5,421 inmates in Hawai‘i, 11% are female. That is higher than the national average of 7%. The eight students in my creative writing class are some of the hardest-working women I know. In order to live at TJ Mahoney, they have to be looking for a job or be gainfully employed. Some take on the additional challenge of attending school or pursuing vocational training. All are required to participate in life-skills classes and community service, as well as follow all program guidelines. The program is rigorous, with strict supervision requirements. These eight students are also among the most resilient women I know. Their writing reflects their lived realities, their mistakes, their dreams. The poems here show their dogged determination to transform their complicated lives. In reading their words, I learn where they come from. I learn where they are going. I see them. It is my hope that you see them—really see them, too.
Where I’m From by Diane
I am from rotary phones, Best Foods and Aloha Shoyu. I am from the hardwood floor. I am from the gardenia bushes, the pink and yellow plumeria. I am from kanekapila and loud laughter. From Montgamory, and Ha‘o and Leisner. I am from warm hugs and loving kisses. From “you too friendly” and “blood comes first.” I am from catechism. I’m from Hawaiian/German/Chinese and beef stew and raw fish. From Grandma’s music, the ukulele, and the sound of her voice. I am from a wooden house, bunk beds, and crowded tables.
Just Me, Myself, and I by Stacey
Stacey N_____ C_____. My government name as a kid J_____. as an adult A_____. no longer a name but a #. Stace, little, little girl, liâ€˜i, mommy, sweetie, miss, boss honey bunches, honey badger, munchkin, ma, witchy, wifey baby, sister, sister-rella, nature girl, tiny all nicknames that stuck over the years and till today are special to me in its own unique ways whether good or bad. Each and every one withholds a story or glimpse of who I am and not with my head down but held up high proudly just me, myself, and I.
My Place by Amourelle
Home. What is that? What does it mean? Where does it come from? When can I have one? Why can’t I find one? Who lives there and for how long? Do they last? What are they made of ? Does everyone get one? Was it where my mother lived? Or was it my father’s house? Was it that room I used at grandma’s when mom was drunk and dad was yelling or I was on the run? Was it that cell made of bricks with the steel sink/toilet combo? Was it with dozens of teenagers looking for a place to belong, to be safe in to be normal at? Was it one in the endless string of couches I crashed on or windows I snuck in and out of ?
Or was it the child psychiatric ward with the art classes and that nurse who “cared”? Was it that place the nice couple had? They meant well, for a month or so. Or was it the Baptist family that banned all my music and stole all my clothes? Was it connected to the first lease I signed? Or the first foreclosure? Was it that back seat with the sticky leather and musty air? I don’t know. Maybe the Economy double at the motel. Or the suite at the hotel. Or that hostel in LA. The weekly walk up in San Francisco. That flat in the Haight. I don’t know. Could it have been the baby blue bunk bed with the peeling paint and constant head counts? What about the place where I store my stuff ? Or the place where I keep my kids? Is it there? Or should it be here? Now. I don’t know. Maybe it’s somewhere off in the dream I have for the future. My place.
Ku‘u Mo‘okūʻauhau (My Family) by Dioné
The a‘a (rootlet) of the kalo is my tūtū kāne and tūtū wahine, my grandparents. The ‘ohā (corm) of the kalo plant is my makua kane and makua wahine, parents. The hou ‘ohā (new offshoot) of the kalo plant is all of my keiki kāne and keiki wahine, my brothers and sisters. The hāhā (stem) of the kalo plant is me. The pua (flower) of the kalo plant is my keiki kāne, my son and nani ‘īlio, our service dog. When we mash the kalo, it becomes poi. In my life, poi represents the true beauty of every family member who came before me, and all generations to come. This is my family, my ‘ohana.
Good Sister, Bad Sister by Amourelle
Good sister, bad sister (better catch my back sister) Wiser sister, stronger sister (teach me all you know sister) Secret keeper, sweater stealer (stay out of my room sister) Comforter, competitor (mine is better than yours sister) Wet nurse, addiction curse (Iâ€™ll always be your only sister) slaps screams laughs dreams hugs sighs unbreakable ties between us sister What would I do if I lost my Sister!
Letter to Self by Kimmy
The tyrant who drove me to prison—cold cells, alone and trusting no one, all you could think of was 40 years in prison. Darkness quickly set in. The fire of hope was gone. Fighting memories of the past, you gave up on your kids. Guilt and shame kept you away from them for years. Unforgiveness protected your heart and made it hard to let anyone in. Icy cold was a way of survival, but under all that ice was a broken little girl who wanted to be loved. You went through a storm for 10 long years and now you see a rainbow of God’s promise— that He will never leave you. The ice in our heart slowly melts and you start to love who you have become. You are an empowered woman standing beside your God. Sharing your experience and strengths with others, you begin to heal from the inside out. You are in your last days of prison and you thought this day would never come. Keep striving, Kimmy, free from all that tore you down, free from always being your worst enemy. Thank you God for giving back me. Love, Kimmy
Unbreakable by Kitty
No matter what obstacles came my way I never gave up. And I did not break. Neglect, abuse, no childhood only adulthood. I never gave up. And I did not break. Does my appearance intimidate you? Is it my tattoos? Or my colorful eyes? Don’t just assume that you know me by just looking at me. It’s what I hold inside that you should look at. Just like my pride and anger lighting up the fire in me. Burning, burning, burning I see hope and new beginnings over the horizon. I never gave up. And I did not break. My past does not define me. The present is right now, right here. The future is soon to come. Don’t ever give up. And don’t ever break. Be unbreakable.
by Maryann I am a human and fallible I am forthright and honest I am amused and humorous I am serious and determined I am undaunted and calm I am patient and tolerant I am intolerant and impatient I am tenacious and daring, adventurous and staid I am eager and excited. I am transforming. I am a woman in transition. I am a work in progress. You see this woman before you. What do you think of my progress? Ah, but what matters most is my own vision of who I can become.
This Life Is Not for Her by DionĂŠ
Walking her service companion under a beautiful And scintillating starry night, she is Taken by force by people of power. Hers is now a lifetime of escaping The crime of mistaken identity. This life is not for her. A native woman held captive against her will Chained at the waist and ankles With anxiety, anger, hate and fear, The light of day closes in on her. This life is not for her. In prison she fights off deprived men, a pack Of wolves in search of their prime mate. Violations of womanhood, dignity, integrity Soothe their desperate wants. Wrongful placement in a hidden underworld, stagnant, uncontrolled, unknown. This life is not for her. She is a woman in a world of oppression and fear Subject to ridicule, suspicion and unfamiliar Treatment that many would never experience. Hate crime, manipulation of the forsaken Surrounded by women of no self worth Trying to find true self and identity This life is not for her. Angelic practitioners help her overcome death Because the fight to live is a journey to be won. Losing faith, praying that the storm will pass, She smells the air filled with the essence of death.
The aroma awakens her spirit to bring light into darkness. This life is not for her. But she hears her ancestors, their voices Resonate through musical harmonies Found in the strums of the ukulele and guitar The pounding of her pahu drum and ipu, their Fingers dancing over piano keys, breathing life Into all that is dead in spirit, freeing all doubt— Allowing body, soul, mind Spirit to be one, in common with Hawai‘i’s Last reigning monarch. Transfigurations of hope Decide her fate. Could healing in freedom Be the life for her? It was freedom she wanted, and freedom she received. An angel of hope was sent to her side, whose advice Was for her to hug herself to feel safe and secure. This is the life for her. A few weeks later angelic practioners reclaimed Her life to its rightful place, a refuge where True healing and transformation reawaken all Of her. Leaders, mentors and spiritual advisors Rejuvenate her, guide her to a futre of success. She is placed in a line of work where therapy And the beauty of grooming enhances everything That is divine and favored. This is the life for her. Her past journey was like one of the goddess Pele Destroying all that her ancestors created. Today, like the goddess Poli‘ahu who froze all Who were belittled, she allows the one and only god Who is her creator to replenish all that was taken.
She brings honor to all who are worthy and gives Her family the life that they truly deserve. Imua Nā Oiwi Nā Wāhine O Hawai‘i. We shall move forward the people, the women of Hawai‘i. This is the life for her.
Shame by Kitty
Shame is . . .
being on the streets with nowhere to go hanging at the corner in the pouring rain, huddled in a cubby hole trying to keep warm sleeping under a bridge thatâ€™s infested with rats.
Shame is . . .
watching 17 years go by with nothing to show for it but being a repeat offender, chronic runaway, a ward of the State.
Shame is . . .
being an addict who would do anything for the next hit no matter what the cost, slowly committing suicide with alcohol and drugs killing my body, my mind, my spirit.
Shame is . . .
knowing that the past is forgotten, a memory in the back of my mind
Shame . . .
no longer has a hold on who I am today. It has made me who I want to be tomorrow and the days to come.
Proud. Confident. Determined. Empowered. Shameless.
Shame by Jessica
Shame was looking into my daughter’s eyes in blue prison scrubs— Fear filled my heart as the tears streamed down my face. Will she ever understand that this isn’t her fault? Will she hate me? Is she ashamed of having a mom in prison? Will she ever forgive me? There are many things that I am ashamed of doing in my past . . . though not being there for her has hurt the most. Caused the most pain—ripped my very heart out of my chest. It’s not simple enough to say, “Well it’s okay.” But life’s lessons are all intended to stamp its print on the fabric from which we were cut. I am real. I can face the shame. Though it’s almost as if I am dying on the inside. Shame will not kill me. It has not killed me. The gates are open. With one foot in front of the other, I wrap my arms around her again. And suddenly, I am not ashamed looking into her eyes—freedom.
Tomorrow by Maryann
In the beginning there was . . . fear, uncertainty, a questioning of where I fit in. In the beginning there was . . . “Hi, I’m Maryann. Who would you like me to be today?” In the beginning there was . . . A need to belong somewhere, Anywhere—“Will you accept me?” In the middle there was . . . A questioning of where I was going; uncertainty, fear of change. In the middle there was . . . The certainly of change was essential; necessary for my growth, my survival. In the middle there was . . . growing pains, insights, lessons, and enlightenment. Today there is . . . a transformed, changed woman confident and assured. Today there is . . . questioning of what more I can accomplish in my life. Today there is . . . “Hi, I’m Maryann, and I’m just beginning!”
You Could Move Back In by Kimmy
But not just yet. First you must convince Me that you not gonna Do it again. Stop making me promises, Just take care of yourselfâ€” I wanna see you go far Cause youâ€™re a shining star.
The Argument by Maryann
I cannot write a villanelle My words buck at such a structure I argue, fight with myself. I read and read the examples, pull out pen and paper. Yet I cannot write a villanelle. Mere doodles end up on the page where words should appear and flow I argue, fight with myself. I feel backed into a corner. I cannot run and hide. Yet even with the pressure, I cannot write a villanelle. So I shall put my arguments down, and hope this will suffice. I cannot write a villanelle and tire of arguing, fighting with myself.
Like You, I Am Not Sure Where It Has Gone by Jessica
Like you, I am not sure where it has gone. Everybody faces that dilemma A few times throughout life. The fire you were born with burns deep within your very soul. Strong—powerful—full of passion—you feel mighty. Then with a gust of the wind— so it simply seems—it is extinguished. Left with ashes burned to the ground, nothing remains. When you look in the mirror and ask . . . where has it gone? But just wait. Clear those ashes. Chop the wood and throw the sparks. Find your light. Fan the flame. And look, you found it once more.
Bios Amourelle: I was basically raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan and grew up fast in a dysfunctional, alcoholic household. By the age of 12, I was in juvenile detention for runaway and curfew violations. That is when I was truly introduced to writing and began to express my feelings, when I had no voice. I bounced around from homes to institutions for the next 27 years, spending time in Florida, Michigan, San Francisco, and most recently O‘ahu. Through the highs of success and motherhood, to the lows of prison and drug addiction, I have used writing to cope, grieve, channel, focus, cleanse, and basically keep my sanity. Today, writing leaves me full of hope and optimism for the future. Diane: I am from a family of eight. The first time I wrote a poem was when I took this class. I learned how to be comfortable speaking in front of people through this class. My dream is to be happy. Dioné: I am Kanaka Maoli and Fa‘a Sāmoa from the slopes of Mauna Kea and the shores of Waikiki. I write to inspire and to tell my story. I have a chance and opportunity to bring honor to my family’s name because TJ’s assisted in giving me my life back to its rightful place. My dream is to record my solo album and be a Nā Hoku Hanohano Award winner. Jessica: I am from the Windward side of O‘ahu, from Kaneohe to Waimanalo—“all ova mo’ betta. . .” I always had an interest in writing, mostly as a way to release or untrap the things deep down inside. Writing is a way to cut myself open and to heal. The writing class at TJ’s really gave me an avenue to express myself. My dreams are to help at-risk youth . . . hopefully using writing as a vehicle to experience change as well. Kimmy: I’m from the streets of Waikiki. Runnin and rollin w/ people who were lost jus like me. Nowhere to go. Too cold to sleep. Learning how to survive, and just stayin alive. I started writing in prison, getting out the yuck I held deep within. This class has taught me to keep striving. Keep writing and follow my dreams. My dreams of restoration with my kids. Kitty: One thing I got out of being at TJ Mahoney’s is that I can become an independent person if I remain focused and open to all the help that they have to offer so I can build a solid foundation for myself and not rely on anyone.
Maryann: I was born in Phoenix, Arizona. I was a child of the desert now transplanted in paradise. I was from years behind razor wire with few outlets of expression, save for writing. TJ Mahoney is giving me a fresh start, a new lease on life. My dream is to continue sharing my thoughts and stories, and reach far and wide. Stacey: grew up here in Hawaiâ€˜i have two sisters and a brother we come from a HawnFil, Puerto Rican mixed background I am a survivor a sister a mother a daughter a friend and someone who has learned a lot but is always anxious to learn more
www.hawaiireview.org Hawai‘i Review Staff, 2013-2014 Anjoli Roy, Editor in Chief Kelsey Amos, Managing Editor Donovan Kūhiō Colleps, Design Editor No‘ukahau‘oli Revilla, Poetry Editor David Scrivner, Fiction Editor