All Articles by Kristiana Kahakauwila

Creative Process Statement

For me, the creative process—the act of writing—begins before I’m ever in front of a computer screen. I was on Big Island once, up in paniolo country, and I noticed how the grass, windswept, grew in arches. I knew as soon as I saw that grass that I was going to have to write it one day. The experience, the act of observation, is the first moment of writing for me.

Research is another part of the process. Research offers so much depth and context, not just for the work but for my own self, my own development. When I first set out on my novel project I visited a number of archives and museums—the Mission Houses Museum on Oahu, the Japanese Cultural Center in Honolulu, and more recently the Bancroft Library at University of California at Berkeley, to name a few. But then, there’s also the experience of just listening, of paying attention as my aunties and uncles talk story, or my parents recall when they were kids or first married. I love listening while my elders talk because then I’m the recipient of their creative process, of their storytelling.

One of the things I struggle with sometimes is turning the more archival research into fiction. I want to adhere to these details of history, but a novel needs to take its own leaps, craft its own worlds. When I moved to Bellingham my colleague and friend, creative nonfiction writer Brenda Miller, invited me to join her writing group. That group writes in timed intervals with some sort of “boundary” or rule set up—shortest sentences possible, a single long sentence. I found that these boundaries allowed my brain to work in different ways, to access different images or voices. My research, which I had conducted a year or two or three before, would return, unbidden, and an odd fact I had read—say, schoolgirls in 1899 rescuing their books from one side of their dormitory as the other half went up in flames—would suddenly become an image so clear it was as if I was recalling having been there myself. That was really freeing for me, and it helped me remember that the knowledge I have is integrated into me, waiting to come forth as needed.

Finally, I always remember how fortunate I am to be able to sit down and write. To come to the page to play with language, imagine, remember. I’ve been surrounded by stories (and great storytellers) since I was a kid, and now I get to join their ranks. I get to tell stories of my own. The creative process doesn’t begin and end with me or my experiences. Rather, I’m a part of a larger storytelling process that has shaped and inspired, and now leans its ear in to listen to me.

The Retreat at Upcountry Maui

On the slopes of Haleakala, high above the health food store in Pā`ia and just below the paniolo town of Makawao, once stood the Wai`olu Girls Seminary, named for the stream than ran beneath the girls’ dormer windows, the water so cold they could keep a jar of milk beneath its surface for three days and it came out just as sweet as when they brought it down from Haleakalā Ranch. Not that the girls needed to keep the milk fresh, with the dairy only a mile away, and all the sweet, big-eyed cows to tease on the way. Mele used to stand on the kiawe fence and rub her thumb to forefinger, the sound soft as water on sand, and the cows would come, thinking she had fruit to give them.

At the school—where now The Retreat is built, with teak furnishings imported from Bali and saffron-hued mandalas painted on the concrete walkways—eighty-seven Hawaiian and half-Hawaiians (and one Chinese girl), ranging in ages from six to eighteen, were culled from families across Maui. An additional three hailed from Big Island, five from O`ahu, and one traveled all the way from Kauai to attain a fine ethical character, suitable for teaching or the strenuous duties of Republican motherhood. Indeed, the strictness of the girls’ schedule was part of their training, with Mondays devoted to washing, Wednesdays to choral rounds, Fridays to sewing, and Saturdays to bathing, when the entire school tramped down to the pools at Ka`ena. Sundays, of course, consisted of church and Bible study, though in the evening small domestic crafts such as lace-making or embroidery were allowed.

Where now, at the north east corner of the property, the Retreat’s heated infinity pool draws the eye to the horizon line, a goat yard once stood. Beside that was the makai wing of the school, with the first-floor kitchen and dining room overlooking the ocean, and the second-floor sickroom set at a distance from the main dormitory in an attempt to prevent the spread of disease. The mauka wing, with its windows facing the ascending hillside and the cloud-heaped summit of Haleakalā, was given over to instruction and a dedicated music room where the girls practiced harmonizing their hymns for a monthly performance at the haole church down the hill. The central hall that connected these two wings was dominated by a dormitory on the top floor and on the first floor an office beside the formal parlor, where Headmistress entertained guests, mostly members of the haole church who wished to observe the girls whose betterment they funded.

The school was built around a central courtyard that hosted sing-alongs and picnics, the main water-pump and, in May, graduation day. Hanging on the wall in The Retreat’s library you can see a photograph featuring the class of 1903, the first group to receive printed diplomas. The eight graduates sewed their own white holokū, trimming the wrists and neck in lace they stitched themselves, and wove the haku lei that wreath their heads. They pose against the wooden railing of the back porch or perch upon the steps, their knees folded gracefully together, their skirts a wall that reveals no curve, no suggestion of hip or leg. The wreathes highlight their hair, loose and wavy, and on their lips a smile arises. They could pose for a Waikīkī postcard were it not for those high-neck dresses, their hands chastely folded in their laps or tucked behind their backs.

Of the eight graduates, three are engaged to Lahainaluna seminarians and destined to become missionaries in the South Seas. They retain the zeal of the recently converted, and so will not recognize themselves in the natives of Kiribati or the Marquesas or Pape`ete, where they will be sent, the former to work with the London Missionary Society and the latter two to combat the evils of Catholicism in French Polynesia. Three more, including Mele, look forward to a September matriculation at the Normal School in Honolulu. The last have been selected as domestics. Pru is intended for employment by the Chapman Family, whose sugar cane fields fill the three miles of hillside between the ocean and the school and who are the most significant patrons of Wai`olu and its students. Beni will begin work in October for a well-known Honolulu family—a doctor, his wife, and their twins, one girl and one boy, only a year old at Beni’s arrival. She will raise them, feed them, love them as if she gave birth to them herself. After fifteen years with these children—her hānai, her heart—she will discover a rash on the edge of her earlobe and ask her employer, the Doctor, for a salve to calm the irritation. Instead, he will have her arrested on suspicion of leprosy.

In the photograph, Mele stands on the step above Beni, resting her hand on her friend’s shoulder. Mele’s is the only hand not hidden behind a back nor curled into the folds of a skirt, the only hand that seems to remember the gift of touch, of affection, of promise. Later, when the school burns, this is the hand that is scarred, the only human casualty in that whole awful conflagration. Pru, still angry at Mele for betraying her to Headmistress, will say the constellation of burned skin is a sign of God’s punishment. Headmistress—calm even in the face of the absolute destruction of her dear Wai`olu— will claim it’s a lesson, a reminder to Mele to think before she acts but always to act as she thinks God wills. And Beni, predicting the changes to come, how their lives are like canoes tossed by foreign winds, will say it’s a mark by which Mele can steer her life, as a navigator steers by a slash of stars in the night sky.

When next we read of Mele, it is not her name that appears but a mention of her hand. In letters collected by the Wailuku Historical Society and photocopied for The Retreat’s files, the Chapman women write that the “disfigured appendage” does not keep their domestic from being most helpful to them. She is their “dear girl,” their “little song,” a “regular aide-de-camp.” When, a year after her hiring, Mele runs away from the Chapman Estate, her abandonment practically breaks poor Mother Chapman’s heart. In a letter to her husband, Mother Chapman surmises, “If one cannot trust a Wai`olu girl, then is there hope for any of that entire race?”

The school’s reconstruction is completed in January of 1905. For the next thirty-five years it remains a female-only educational institution, until shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor when the property is enfolded into the Fourth Marine Camp and used as a military hospital. After the war it serves various purposes, as a co-educational two-year college and later as summer housing for pineapple pickers. But it falls into disuse eventually, until 2003 when The Retreat, LLC, purchases the property and renovates it, opening their holistic health experience in 2005.

When we reflect upon the photograph of the class of 1903, those girls seem lost to us now. Their home—the school—burned to the ground just days after the picture is taken. The missionaries’ journals turned to mush by the sea, and the blossoming educators forgotten in the turmoil of the 1909 labor strikes. Beni is the last to receive written attention, her medical records at Kalihi Hospital noting the impossibility of having her paroled and recommending she be sent to the colony on Moloka`i.

However, as any Hawaiian can tell you, memory lies not in medical records or archives, letters or diaries, not even in photographs, but in the land itself. Visiting The Retreat, you can dine beside windows that open over a sloping hillside of sugar cane fields still owned by the Chapman Family, the view to the ocean much the same as it was one hundred years ago. You may walk beneath the ironwood trees that line the drive and recall that these towering conifers—saplings at the time of the fire—escaped the same fate as the seminary building. Or clamber into the deep ravine beside the garden, where organic lettuces and herbs are grown, and wonder how, with the stream so slight, the girls ever fit whole bottles of milk beneath the waterline.

If, after a day of exploration, of comparing your own observations to that of the rich history dating all the way back to 1861, you fall asleep upon The Retreat’s linen bedsheets, you might dream you see a lantern hovering outside your window, or feel the pad of a finger running the outline of your ear, or hear a single watery splash as if someone has dived from a great height. If you let yourself, you might then dream of koa trees taller and thicker than ironwoods, and the heavy scent of sandelwood perfuming the air, and somewhere a tiny snail singing a melody that makes you thirst for water. You might dream all this, and more, and in the morning, unable to understand all these visions, let them slip away, one by one. And this is just as well. These recollections are not yours to keep. They belong to the place, are seeded in the land, and it’s the land that decides when the stories are released, and to whom, and what purpose they may serve.

Bug Poem

They swarm, head high
when I’m standing,
mid-air above sapling, golden,
they hover like ashes
the heat of a fire floats
and deck in and out
of sun beam and tree-shadow
burns through the pines
reflecting off the water,

and I think this is what love looks like.

A thousand floating bugs
on the edge of the water,
unconcerned, detached
from the bird and the cold,
silent everywhere
except for the hum
of their wings,
and the lap of lake-wave,

loop, spin,

move three square inches to circle each other again.

Peaked Saint

If your walls could talk
I would beg them to stay silent
like I have tried to be.
If they could hear
I would have asked for boiling pipes,
so desperate to fight the pain alone,
all I needed was water
a degree hotter than my cheeks, steam
to sooth my contracting tomb
squatted as close to the drain
and the spout, gripping ceramic walls.

Not everyone dies a bloody death.
Not everyone’s redemption
means the bloody death of their child
in a lukewarm pool.
At least you fell from me
and in to the water,
baptized in front of the soaps
while your father watched television
in the next room.

Heaven will accept you,
a peaked saint, frail and flushed flesh,
a malleable blood lump
missing a beating heart or blood pump
my fingers forced down the drain,
forced to stay silent, a missed carry,
a tiny abomination in the water, sacrificed.

Innate Value

You are valuable, and I’m able to see your value from any angle. People have become blind with insanity because no one lives in sanity where you see the sanctity of a soul. We don’t see the depravity in our audacity to have a mentality that treats humanity as vanity. We don’t understand the innate value in the human anatomy as we elaborately think of ways to make someone live in agony. I just agonize over advice that will advise you to analyze the things people comprise, because that implies that we should surmise the value of a person from the content of their supplies. Or we turn to education and intellect to select the importance that someone warrants. We can’t forget to mention performance is often reported as being able to determine if someone is important. Because if you don’t have some sort of ability for an active activity or possess the capability to display creativity in music or art, you’ll experience much futility because you’ll been thrown into captivity of being labeled insignificant. I won’t fail to comment on the militant social structure that young people are so vigilant to continue to implement. Teens think the popularity of their friends is obviously an indicant of if their lives are significant. We won’t stop there. This list wouldn’t be legitimate if I didn’t add to it the amazement of achievement which has a worldwide agreement to be sufficient appeasement for deeming the value of a life as decent. And to top it off, if you’re not considered physically alluring, I assure you that few people will reassure you that your life measures a value beyond that of treasure. I don’t take pleasure in making a lecture on all the pressure the world puts together. I hope you see this as a loving gesture that suggests you’re no lesser of a human whether or not you’re a possessor of whatever qualities society claims to make a life valuable. I’m on an endeavor forever to show that just being a human being means your value is limitless, and no one can limit this with any amount of ridiculous fickleness. So, please don’t let the spiritless take down the spirited. The vigilance of a villainous syllabus will have you thinking there’s some meticulous synthesis you need to do to before you have value, but the fact is the state of being a person is indigenous to the state of being irreplaceably precious.

Go Live It

Who are you when no one’s looking? Are you looking the way you look when you know people are looking? Or are you constantly looking to make sure no one’s really looking to see the true way you look? Because when I look around, I see a lack of intensity directed towards integrity. So, infidelity runs wild while no one lives in fidelity. They think their ability to get away with doing wrong gives them indemnity.  I’m not just talking sensual or sexual faithfulness either, but the perpetual way we treat honesty and facts as being flexible. It seems like having honor and just doing the right thing, because it’s the right thing, are just conceptual and only apply when convenient, so most people treat it as though they could take it or leave it.  I’m trying to critique the way people don’t respect the value of respect.  So as a critic, I’ll criticize the critical size of people’s lies that say they honor the wise, but when wisdom lies in front of their eyes they ridicule it for being lame, as they rid themselves of a clue of living a life that’s true.  Then you hear people idolize the character of true idols you could characterize as living ethics that are vital, but when you challenge them to have their character rise to be eye to eye with this character’s eyes, they’ll criticize you for taking life too seriously and acting deliriously for being unwilling to compromise some “silly virtue” for fun, laughter, pleasure, or just convenience because you’re too much of a goody two-shoes.  This insult results in people choosing to indulge in being two-faced until they’re engulfed in this occult that gives little value to those who truly value values.  If this doesn’t sort of make you sore, then maybe you’re letting the message soar above your heart because I’m calling us to stop having a short view of integrity that we just look over, but instead see it as a paradise shore we would sacrifice for to secure.  And I’m sure you can see the irony of a culture who hates the fake, but then tries to break the authentic. Because for how many people who claim to hate masks, there’s a massive mass that pushes against those who try to live the full mass of their words.



To Belong

Everybody longs to belong, and you’ll be longing too long for belonging if you’re logging bonding hours talking about belongings.  When too many conversations are revolving around materials of matter, and not the materials that matter, there’s no evolving of the relationship.  The lack of involving someone in your inner thoughts prevents the involvement of a solvent for solving your loneliness.  Yet that exact issue is almost harmonious with all the copious amount of people who claim that, “No one understands me and my issues.”  That thinking is so erroneous, but we never challenge people to stop complaining and leave the coziness of being isolated and to allow someone into their pandemonium.  Now of course there’s an appropriate way to approach someone who feels like an alien, alienated from humanity.  They feel no one can appreciate the uniqueness of their differences, and this bleakness of reality must become our weakness.  My thesis (is the secret) is for us to live in frequent ceaseless meekness.  Only then can we help rein in loneliness, and help someone reign over feeling misunderstood because someone took time to stand in the rain with them as they felt they would drown from the constant lonesome hurricane.  The smile coming from someone because they feel similar with another person without using a simile is sincerely a symphony for the eyes like the beauty of Sicily.  So, we need to lessen the lessons of legends from people we see as legends that say opening up is the best way to be destined for pain.  Because now we have people falling off the edges of ledges into an abysmal abyss where only apocalypse exists for those who consist of complexities too complicated to get. But I promise you that closing yourself off is never the answer. You’ll be consumed by the cancer of solitude, and I know it’s hard to include people inside your insecurities, but not everyone is there to intrude, but rather some are there to understand and offer servitude. But before you can really find belonging with humans, your attitude needs to be aimed at the highest altitude, because God’s aptitude to understand is an infinite amplitude above any dude’s. Once you comprehend that true belonging begins and ends with God, who knows you from beginning to end, you’ll be able to distinguish, with the help of our King’s English, what belonging is meant to feel like, and you can extinguish all your delinquent thoughts and relationships

A Dirge Melody: Don’t Let the Humans Know We Contain Souls

If you want the pearl
the oyster growled as a lioness
you will have to pry me from this rock
wrest my shell jaws open
cut my living muscle self apart.
Can you do that?

They can. They do.
They polish, bleach, buff,
label the pearl grade C
light luster, barely usable.

No one asks the dead
why are you dead, when
piously wearing their flesh.
For a pearl: the gravel
irritating my soft heart I coated in
substance of my shell.

A man with nimble fingers
nimble brain chains the pearls
creates a jolie-laide necklace
of 113 other variants.

Slasher Flicks

A genre of publicly-traded companies is Horror
with much higher death counts.
They “cut” and “slash” better than Kruger or Jason ever could
‘cause they kill by the thousands
in dark-colored tailored suits at a long table
in a room with views with views.

Macy’s is “cutting” 10,000 jobs
the New York Times tells its readers.
See, no kitchen blade borrowed from a homeowner’s block
no blades for fingers—
just a pen.

The CEOs get raises for taking care of shareholders
while retail workers fold clothing to be unfolded again
while the money to fold gets less and less
while Republicans cry for less regulations
while people are being folded over
lost in the darkness of a crease.

“Shareholder value” is their concern.
So they cut and slash and crush
until gore is brought to a new level:
The Walking Dead team is envious.
Alchemists are envious as well:
the CEOs of corporations like Walmart
have turned blood into gold.

And automation is their next step;
they want to kill efficiently like the Nazis:
planned, structured, and documented.

So, what do we do?
We fight for the best jobs by going to college
and getting surrounded by debt
(while they’ve paid 0% interest for over a decade)
until we make it to the top,
and once we do,
we stare at the scars along our body
and start our own killing sprees.

Eat Your Heart Out

“Okay, I will,” he blithely responded.
“Yea, you do that,” she smiled. “Wait, what are you—”
“Oh my God,” she whispered.

Taking out a scalpel, he looks down at his chest;
now looking at her, he slowly runs the scalpel,
starting above the collar bone, right in the middle of his chest
down to where the ribs end their protection.
Blood flows out of him like bats out for a hunt.
He places the scalpel on a floating, shiny, metallic table lined with wax paper.
A detached hand passes him the rib spreaders.
As he cranks, his bones crack like dry wood being snapped in a forest.
Locking the mechanics in place, still staring at her,
not needing to look down, like a practiced guitarist,
he rips his heart out of his chest cavity,
squeezing the organ out of its beats,
and takes a giant, teeth-sewing bite,
creating sounds of crushing moist flesh—
almost the melody of biting into a tough orange.

Blood runs from the corners of his mouth;
He licks every drop that escaped his quivering tongue:
closing his heavy lids to truly take in the taste of salt and iron
as the blood runs and dries along his throat.
Upon opening his eyes, she’s still frozen.

Holding out his heart with a teeth impression a dentist could use,
he offers her a bite.
She looked hungry.