Friday, June 1, 1984

LETTER TO “CRAPPA”


 For Roger Kent 1906-1982















Who are we, and where are we going?
—Gauguin

We called you Crappa with a “C”
& you roared with laughter
until your milky eyes watered & your lungs failed.
You said, A toothless son couldn't get it right,
& like a typo, the name Crappa stuck.

While the oxygen tank stood guard by your bedside,
you returned the war trophies:
the New Guinean stone axes to the Bishop Museum,
& the yosegaki banner of heavy raw silk,
with its faded orange sun, to Japan.
Beneath the signatures, rust stains,
or was it old blood?
I wanted to ask: What village, whose son?
Someone translated: Given to ____
in the Great Pacific War fought to the end.
If you believe in it you win.

With the flag, you sent a snapshot of you on the beach:
a young man holding the enemy flag
& the Japanese prisoners all smiling
smiling for the unseen camera. Silent, posed.
Like a knife, the shutter severed a moment from time.

These tropics suck marrow from bone.
You told us about those boxes of freight
marked TYPEWRITERS—FRAGILE, DO NOT DROP.
Inside those boxes, whiskey.
The news nearly leaked out
when someone dropped a box & said, Damned heavy!
Why the hell you need all those typewriters for?
In our dreams we are always traveling towards paradise.
All those dead waiting in Iron Bottom Bay,*
their bones like coral—

All those names calligraphed on the sun,
& the islands: Guadalcanal, Tinian, Iwo Jima
needed witnesses.
But you never told us how it really was:
the ocean, the palm trees & the inevitable waiting.
Generations of fish have spawned in the iron reefs,
grinning skulls, & stained coral sand—
rusted war trophies no one will return.

As coral ages, it whitens like hair.
Like the sky must have done
that terrible second dawn.
Who will tell us the stories
when all the old men are gone?

When the Japanese sent a photo
of the family & flag reunited,
you tried to keep your hand
on top of the new flag from trembling.
The alizarin disc was brighter
than new blood without history,
the thin silk breathed & quivered,
waiting to make an escape.

Honolulu, HI

6/1984,
rev87 (was there a first draft in 82?)
rev. 8/95
Roger Kent oral history
*Guadalcanal

1989 Chaminade Literary Review
1987 Blue Window

















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