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  • Coral Road
  • Written by Garrett Hongo
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Coral Road

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Poems

Written by Garrett HongoAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Garrett Hongo

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On Sale: September 27, 2011
Pages: 120 | ISBN: 978-0-307-70156-5
Published by : Knopf Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Garrett Hongo’s long-awaited third collection of poems is a beautiful, elegiac gathering of his Japanese-American ancestors in their Hawaiian landscape and a testament to the power of poetry, as it brings their marginalized yet heroic narratives into the realm of art.

In Coral Road Hongo explores the history of the impermanent homeland his ancestors found on the island of O‘ahu after their immigration from southern Japan, and meditates on the dramatic tales of the islands. In sumptuous narrative poems he takes up strands of family stories and what he calls “a long legacy of silence” about their experience as contract laborers along the North Shore of the island. In the opening sequence, he brings to life the story of his great-grandparents fleeing from one plantation to another, finding their way by moonlight along coral roads and railroad tracks. As his grandmother, a girl of ten with an infant on her back, traverses “twelve-score stands of cane / chittering like small birds, nocturnal harpies in the feral constancies of wind,” Hongo asks, “Where is the Virgil who might lead me through the shallow underworld of this history?” In fact, it is Hongo who guides himself—and us—as, in these devoted acts of recollection, he seeks to dispel the dislocation at the center of his legacy.

The love of art—making beauty in however provisional a culture—has clearly been a guiding principle in Hongo’s poetry. In this content-rich verse, Hongo hearkens to and delivers “the luminous and the anecdotal,” bringing forth a complete aesthetic experience from the shards that make up a life.

Excerpt

Coral Road

I keep wanting to go back, across an ocean, blue-gray and uncaring,
White cowlicks of waves at the continental shore, then the midsea combers
Like white centipedes far below the jetliner that takes me there.
And across time too, to 1919 and my ancestors fleeing Waialua Plantation,
Trekking across the northern coast of O`ahu, that whole family
                                                                                      of first Shigemitsu
Walking in geta and sandals along railroad ties and old roads at night,
Sleeping in the bushes by day, ha`alelehana—runaways
From the labor contract with Baldwin or American Factors.

My grandmother, ten at the time, hauling an infant brother on her back,
Said there was a white coral road in those days, pieces of crushed reef
Poured like gravel over the brown dirt, and, at night, with the moon up,
As it was those nights during their flight, silver shadows on the sea,
It lit their path like a roadway made of dust from the Ocean of Clouds.
Michiyuki is what they called it, the Moon Road from Waialua to Kahuku.

There is little to tell and few enough to tell it to—
A small circle of relatives gathered for reunion
At some beach barbecue or Elks Club veranda in Waikiki
All of us having survived that plantation sullenness
And two generations of labor in the sugar fields,
Having shed most all memory of travail and the shame of upbringing
In the clapboard shotguns of ancestral poverty.

                                                                         Who else would even listen?
Where is the Virgil who might lead me through the shallow underworld of this history?
And what demiurge can I say called to them, loveless ones,
               through twelve-score stands of cane
Chittering like small birds, nocturnal harpies in the feral constancies of wind?

All is diffuse, like knowledge at dusk, a veiled shimmer in the sea
As schools of baitfish boil and revolve in their iridescent globes,
Turning to the olive dark and the drop-off back to depth below,
Where they shiver like silver penitents—a cloud of thin, summer moths—
While rains chill the air and pockmark the surface of the sands at Sans Souci,
And we scatter back inside to a humble Chinese buffet and cool sushi
Spread on Melamine platters on a starched white ribbon of shining cloth.


From the Hardcover edition.
Garrett Hongo

About Garrett Hongo

Garrett Hongo - Coral Road

Photo © Franco Salmoiraghi

Garrett Hongo was born in Volcano, Hawai‘i, lived as a child in Kahuku on O‘ahu, and grew up thereafter in Los Angeles. He is the author of two previous collections of poetry, three anthologies, and Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai‘i. His poems and essays have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and Virginia Quarterly Review, among others. He has been the recipient of several awards, including fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation. He lives in Eugene, Oregon, and teaches at the University of Oregon, where he is Distinguished Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences.

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