Thursday, September 16, 2010

MOMMAE

          Clara Mae Butler Champion
          January 18, 1919—Sept. 12, 2010


I'm a little distracted, a dear friend's mother died.
We're caught in the logistics of today & tomorrow.
When I was homeless, living in my car,
I was adopted into her clan, haole warts and all.
From her, I learned old island traditions
& the parties where everybody is always welcome,
the interdependence of things: inafmao'lek
& manamko—reverence for the elderly.

I loved the carved storyboards of the ancient ones,
of taotaomo'na—the twins, Puntan & Fu'uña who,
before there was space & time, made the world.
Fu'uña used Puntan's eyes for the sun & moon,
she painted his brow into long rainbows,
then she became stone, she became Guam:
from red earth & water, she made the Laso de Fua,
the stone that became the children of the world.

They say it took a giant net woven of women's hair
to trap the great fish the men couldn't catch.
Mommae was the fish & the net, she was the rock
of Guam that holds her family together.

I remember how scandalized Mommae was
when I wore a Chamorro cut-lace underslip
as a dress. Gai’ase´nu guaho. But I wore it
until nothing was left but a curtain of memory.

We will take Mommae out in style
with music & food: red rice, keliguin, mango
& bilimbines—shining starfruit of the isles.
For the word Guam—Guåhan—means "to have."
As in the Irish, go leor: "plenty" & "enough."
We have everything we need in our hearts.
Right to the end, Mommae taught us the Chamorro words.
It was like my grandmother saying: Don't let your language
slip through your fingers to be lost forever.

We will say Håfa Adai. We will eat roast pig & taro.
We will give Mommae a real Chamorro sendoff—
so like an Irish wake. We will sing in church,
we will sing at graveside and we will lift our voices
up through the rainbowed vale of tears.
The Irish nuns and priest will sing praise, her son
Greg will sing all the old songs, "Till we meet again."
Fanatåtte. Esta ågupa'. Esta ågupa' Mommae.

1 comment:

Twilark said...

A beautiful poem and some wonderful memories. I love the way the cultures and languages wind through it all. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.