Thursday, August 31, 2006

This is a two part dialogue. Written in a class given by David Milch, producer and writer for NYPD Blue...

Leilani's Gift

I had a really nice time.  Thank you for inviting me out.

Yeah!  It was so much fun I have decided to postpone suicide until tomorrow!

My mother committed suicide.

Oh my God! I am so sorry.  I meant no disrespect honey.

None taken.

What happened?

My mother couldn't live with the mistakes she thought she had made in her life. My father was seeing a young girl at the hospital.  And she just couldn't cope.

Oh, honey I am so sorry.

She married outside her culture.  She was too proud to accept that the Elders may have been right.  They warned her not to marry a haole but she followed the voice of her heart. 

How old was she when she died.

Let's see I was 12 so she would have been 30. She married my dad when she was 18.  She felt old.  Can you imagine feeling old at 30.  I am older now than she was when she died.

That must have been hard on you. 

I found her.

What did you do?  If I am getting too personal just tell me.

No, it's ok.  Sometimes it is good to talk about things that hurt.  I came home early from school that day.  Some kids had been taunting me.  They were calling me Hapa Haole.  We were all Kama Aina but they were full blooded Hawai'ians and I am not because of my father being English.  For some reason it really got to me that day.  I felt very vulnerable that day.  So I told my teacher that I wasn't feeling well and I wanted to go home.  I had this feeling of dread all the way home.  In the pit of my stomach, this dull, echoing emptiness. 

They just let you leave school?

Yes, in those days Hawai'i was still a little village in our hearts.  No one would harm anyone physically, because we were all related, or our families had grown up together for generations.  We were 'ohana.'  Family.

I'm sorry. I interupted you.

So, I went home early just after nutrition.  We were living in the Big House then at Haleakala. 

House of the Sun

Yes, House of the Sun.  I went up the drive and it all seemed so quiet. Usually when I returned from school Mamu was in the garden.  She was always in the garden.. With flowering hibiscus behind her and pikake or white ginger flowers stuck into her long raven black hair.  This day she wasn't there.  I remember standing there looking up at the house for a long time.  Then I went inside.  And I called out her name.  "Leilani" not mamu or makuahine, but Leilani.  I called out her name.  But the house was still and deathly silent.. I couldn't even hear the breeze jiggling the shojis or the blinds..


I went looking for her.  I had entered the house  through the kitchen door.  I remember the sound of the screen door "meowing" as it shut behind me.  That was the first sound I was aware of and it seemed so earth shatteringly loud. The kitchen was empty.  The kettle was cold.  I went into  the dining room.  There on the table was the usual celadon bowl with gardenias floating in water.  They smelled so sweet.  I passed through the living room with it's rattan furniture and straw mats.  But the room was empty and the blinds were still drawn.

Go on.

I went out onto the lanai to see if she was in the back garden or in the cane fields beyond.  But the garden was empty.  I went back into the house and started down the hallway to the bedrooms.  It was then that I knew something was wrong.  I ran all the way down to the end of the hall screaming out her name "Leilani" and "Mamu" alternately.  The door was locked I pounded with both fists but she didn't answer. So I went through dad's study back out onto the lanai and opened the french doors to their suite.  I had to break a pane of glass with my sandal to get in.  She was lying in their big bed in a white gown.  It was the gown she was married in and the sheets and pillows were white except for where they were stained scarlet with her blood.

She shot herself?

No, she slit her wrists.

What did you do?

I relocked the French doors and climbed up into the bed with her.  I held her in my arms and cried myself to sleep.  That's how they found us.  I was covered in her blood.

Oh, honey I am so sorry.  I had no idea.

Would you like to spend the night?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Celebrate the summer solstice with Native
American flutist, Paul Nyenhuis, and poet,
Sharmagne Leland-St. John. Enjoy an evening
of poetry and music in the library. Sharmagne
will be signing copies of Unsung Songs as well
as her latest book, Silver Tears and Time.

June 21, 2006
7 PM

135 North Washington Ave.
Arlington, WA 98223
360-435-3033 (Voice) [Main line]
360-435-3854 (FAX) [Main line]

Sharmagne & Paul will also be guests on Cheech One-Road's
radio show Nch’i WANA OYATE-Ki in Everett, Washington,
on Sundy, June 18, 2006. Between 6 and 8 PM
(Pacific Northwest time zone).
Listen live:

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A Secret From My Garden

[This is a piece which came about as the result of a chance encounter with a former high school friend and sweetheart, whom I happened to run into the other day. I was surprised at his reaction. After all these years he is still bitter.]

I had an interesting thought while I was out digging up decomposed granite from the new garden area so that I could fill it in with a foot or so of amends, potting soil, and rich dark composted topsoil. Sitting nearby, were flats and containers of Pansies, Johnny Jump-Ups, Columbines, Garden Mums, Blue Star Creeper, and the Amaryllis bulbs known as Naked Ladies for their beautiful and dainty pink bell shaped flower.

As I dug out shovels full of the crumbling sand-like granite, I discovered that after the Northridge earthquake of 1994, my contractors had broken up and buried my old foundation and huge slabs of the concrete from my old patio under the terraced gardens, in a lazy effort to "clean up" without hauling it away.

This reminded me of when I was creating Bob's garden for him in the early days of our courtship. At the time I was amazed to find that he had done some work on the roof of the log home he had built years earlier and had buried pieces of his old roof and other construction debris beneath the soil in his back yard exactly where he had designated the new flower beds to be designed and planted.

It was hard to get anything to grow there because the ground had been poisoned. The failure rate was more than the success rate. At the time I thought that perhaps Great Spirit had sent me to teach the Wasichun not to destroy the earth with his garbage. Eventually I got a garden going in that plot at great expense and months and months of hard, back breaking toil.

Today while I was digging in my own garden, in my own back yard a thought struck me. If you bury garbage in your garden, flowers won't grow. If you bury garbage in your heart, you won't grow.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Out On A Limb

On this cold, quiet autumn morning at barely five minutes past eight, I find myself in my daughter Daisy's room. The smallest and therefore warmest room in this old, 4 story, circa 1920s, chilly house, devoid of central heat. I am sitting at the white particle board desk scavenged a decade ago from some roadside trash heap. Proving the old adage that "one man's trash is another man's treasure" and a frugal single Mother's delight! I marvel as I watch a woodpecker corkscrew her way up and down a branch of the black walnut tree outside my window. It is amazing to me that she is fearless as she hangs upside down some 20 feet or more above the ground. She is beautiful. She is dove gray with delicate black markings. Her back is speckled like her distant cousin the quail. Her cheeks have dark stripes and her head looks as if she is wearing a tiny toupee. I watch her tapping her way up and down each branch stopping every once in a while to hop to a limb above or below. Methodically tap, tap, taping her way along this intricate network of limbs and foliage, twigs and leaf, branching out in an almost dizzying myriad of directions.

As I sit here at my keyboard, sipping from a steaming cup of hot sassafras tea I wonder what instinct in her tells her to do this and then I see her stop as if she has found some delicacy. I offer a silent prayer to Great Spirit, the Creator, that she has not found a termite, or a bore beetle, or worse! Behind her I see a squirrel out for his morning run along the lower limbs of the same tree. Performing a solo adagio of leaps and bounds from branch to bough. Two totally different animals, two different species even, living in perfect harmony on the same tree. Other smaller less colorful birds twitter and flit from branch to branch. The sunlight filters down creating "hot spots" of light on the twigs, branches and trunk on the East side of the tree and dappled shadows on the Southern and Western sides of the same branches and trunk. The squirrel has stopped. He is arching his tail friskily up and over his tan and charcoal back as he studiously investigates a small black walnut which he rolls round and round in his tiny four fingered hands. Nature holds such perfection. I see patches of a cerulean blue sky through the green and yellow leaves of this magnificent sprawling tree which is perfectly centered and exquisitely framed by French windows with brass hasps and hinges. Decals of Winnie the Pooh dressed in a nightcap and flannel gown snuggling with his little paranoid pal Piglet, while he dreams of pots full of sweet honey, are faded and curling on two of the six window panes. Carefully stuck there long ago by the delicate hands of a child who still believed that bears could talk and a certain blue donkey named Eyore was not bipolar.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Gentle Winds
by Sharmagne Leland-St.John
November 4, 2000

The wind sang old songs. The leaves and branches
of the black walnut trees quivered, ever so slightly,
as they listened in silence.
"I have been dreaming of the ranch all day," she said,
as he stood, gazing out the window.
He turned to her and said, "Yes, I know now I have
no Cherokee blood, only the merest trickle of Tsalagi."
Yet, a trickle of Tsalagi is still Cherokee blood, she
thought, pulling her shawl closer around her thin
shoulders. But, she said nothing.
"You must be beautiful when you're dreaming,"
he said, as he searched herface. "I can easily
imagine that.."
She sat quietly in the burgundy, Queen Anne chair,
wrapped in her red and blue peyote shawl with her
moccasined feet tucked under her.
She closed her eyes for a moment and said, "In my
minds eye I'm loading my easel and my paints into
the truck, and I'm driving through Onyx and Cottage
Grove. Country Western and Native American music
wafts out onto a gentle breeze through the sun
roof." As she said this, the sound of Walela, singing
'Amazing Grace' in Tsalagi, welled up in her ears and
in her heart.
"Ummmm, lovely picture," he said, not even imagining
where her thoughts had taken her.
"You can almost see the quarter notes and the eighth
notes hanging on the air and catching in the tangle
of cottonwood trees along the roadside above the
singing river," she continued.
He smiled and asked, "What is the smell?"
Not missing a beat, she answered, "Ceremonial sage,"
thinking he meant the scent inside the truck. He
couldn't have known she always burned sage in an
abalone shell on the dashboard before starting off
on long journeys.
"I thought pine, but then, you mentioned cottonwood.
Ohhhh.... Sage... Yes," he murmured. "And the cemetery?"
"Yes, I would stop to visit the small cemetery at Cottage
Grove as I always do. I would plant sprigs of rosemary
on the tiny graves and try to puzzle why there are so
many babies named Powers, buried there all in a row,
but no adults with that family name...from the turn of
the last century... all those babies. Babies sleeping side
by side. Sisters and brothers sleeping side by side.
Some died even before their siblings were born. Or
cousins maybe. Some knew each other only in death.
Never in life. Yes, I would plant sprigs of rosemary
for remembrance."
"Strange," he interjected.
"Yes, well, life is strange, and we are all strangers
to each other," she said, rising to go up the 2 flights
of stairs to the kitchen to brew a cup of
Cherokee Winter Tea.

The recipe for this flavourful and aromatic tea:

To one gallon of rain water add:

10 whole cardamon seeds
10 whole black pepper corns
10 whole cloves
2 sticks of cinnamon
2 bay laurel leaves

Boil for 20 minutes.
Add a few drops of pure maple syrup to each cup for sweetener.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Strawberry Cordial

by Sharmagne Leland-St. John

I was reading a story that Susan Stallings-Dobson wrote about her sadness during her childhood at finding spiders trapped or marooned in an empty, cold, white porcelain sink. I have always felt akin to Grandmother spider and set her free whenever I have come upon her.

This story takes me whistling back to my own childhood and evokes memories of my own long, brown, slender arms up to the elbows in hot soapy suds as I had the arduous and hated task of washing the dishes. I remember singing "Peg O' My Heart" and "My Wild Irish Rose" on those hot, sultry summer evenings while my sister dried the plates and cups and bowls and sang harmony.

There was nothing more distressing to me than to be trapped, a tiny prisoner, in the enormous kitchen on Olive Drive where we lived in an old converted church, wearing an oversized apron doubled over and tied at the waist, washing or drying dishes when the only place on earth I wanted to be, longed to be, was outside with my best friend Lark Nixon playing "Kick The Can" with the other neighbourhood children in the mounting dusk of a summer evening. Only too soon summer would end and it would be time to return to school. Darkness would fall earlier and I would be too busy with homework to be able to play outside in the autumn evenings.

It was one such evening when I discovered the bottle of strawberry cordial up in the cupboard above the ironing board closet. It was my turn to dry that night. My sister having washed the dishes very quickly and sadistically rinsed them in cold water so they would be harder to dry, was already out in the avocado orchards, behind the house with the other children calling out "Ollie, Ollie, Oxen Free" in her high staccato voice. But there I was with a mountain of dishes to dry and put away.

I was feeling increasingly sorry for myself when I climbed up onto a metal kitchen chair to put away a heavy white, green and pink dogwood patterned platter and discovered a little bit of heaven in a brown bottle. I took the bottle down, unscrewed the black plastic cap and smelled it to see if I recognised the scent of the pinky coloured liquid, swirling inside the bottle. It held a sweet familiar scent but I couldn't quite place it, so being a somewhat adventurous child, I took a small sip and like Alice entered a world I had never known nor dreamed of.

It wasn't an unpleasant taste but I still couldn't quite place it. So I took another sip and then another. I knew it was some sort of fruit but what was that other stingy sort of taste? The one that made me feel funny when I inhaled? I couldn't quite put my finger on it, so I put the bottle back up, in what I instinctively knew was its hiding place. I went back to drying the dishes but that sweet sticky taste haunted me as it lingered somewhere around the roof of my mouth. So after a few minutes I climbed on those spindly, scrawny, wobbly legs back up that red and white metal stepping-stool chair and took another tiny sip from that brown slender necked bottle.

I believe it was then that I first invented the "game of rewards," which I still use to this day to get chores done around my house. For every 10 dishes I dried I got to climb up those red metal steps and take a small rewarding sip from the brown bottle with the black plastic screw on cap. Nowadays for every 20 pieces of clothing I put away I get to go on line, or make a phone call, or play a half hour of my favourite video game. But in those days it was strawberry cordial. I began to hate the days when it was my turn to wash the dishes but I would dawdle long enough scouring out the sink with Babbo or Dutch Cleanser, until my sister had hung up her ill fitting apron, and the embroidered linen dish towel that one or the other of us had been forced to painstakingly "sew" the day of the week onto and had gone outside to join the other children in the summer twilight as they played their childish games.

One night I discovered that I had sampled more than half of the bottle and I knew I would get caught so I began to refill the bottle a little at a time with watered down cranberry juice. Boy did that ever taste good! Finally I had the bottle back up to the level it was when I started, so I never was discovered imbibing, but I always wondered what my elderly, widowed Aunt Mary thought when she was offered strawberry cordial and served watered down cranberry juice instead.

Ollie Ollie Oxen Free! Hiccup!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

First Date
(by Sharmagne Leland-St.John)

The summer I turned 17 years old I worked as a carhop at a local drive-in at the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Laurel Canyon Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley. It was called "Johnnie's." I worked there nights and went to school in the daylight hours.

It was a fun job because it gave me plenty of opportunities to practice with the cute guys who came in, flirting skills I would need in later life! I got to work out in the open air and I got to wear roller skates which made me look much taller than my stunted 5'4."

After a while I had accrued what the older carhops and waitresses referred to as "regulars." One of my favourite regulars was a guy called Sonny. Sonny was so hip, slick and cool. He used to pull up in this hot souped up car. It was a metallic blue 57 Chevy with mag wheels, 327 engine, and 4 on the floor. He used to call me "Little Bit" because I was so thin and small. He made me blush just like a little girl.

He'd come in once or twice a week and start flirting and hitting on me to go out with him. I'd joke around with him but I held fast to my rule. I had three rules in life regarding dating. The first was don't date someone who lives in the same apartment building as you because if you break up one of you has to move. The second was don't date customers or coworkers. If you date customers and decide to stop seeing them it could become pretty uncomfortable if they continued to patronize the place where you work. I had seen a girl break up with a guy and after the breakup he'd come in and run her ragged just to get back at her. My third rule was don't date outside your species.

Sonny would wait off to the side in his car sometimes for over an hour just to be served by me. He'd just sit there in his souped up Chevy and wait. It was cute and all the other girls teased me about it. Finally just before summer vacation Sonny was coming in every single night.

I remember one night he asked me what my favourite songs were. I told him I liked "Sherry" by the Four Seasons, and "Telstar," "Al de La," "I Wanna Be Bobby's Girl," "Save The Last Dance For Me," all of The Beach Boys songs, and I named a couple of others. A few nights later Sonny pulled that souped up 57 Chevy into my station with music blaring out the windows. He had bought a 45 rpm battery powered record player and had gone down to Wallach's Music City at Sunset and Vine and purchased every single record I had named.

His next ploy was to bring a single red long stemmed rose to me every night. I would take that rose home every night to add it to the ones from the previous nights that I had placed in a cut crystal vase next to my bed. I'd pluck out the dead ones and freshen the water every couple of days. I always had at least a dozen long stemmed roses in that vase on my bedside table. The scent of roses weaving its way into my dreams. My dreams of slow dancing with Sonny.

With the beginning of vacation I switched my schedule to days. During those crazy dazzling nights I started heading over to Hollywood and frequenting the Sunset Strip with all of it's disco clubs. Gazzari's, The Whisky, Pandora's Box, The Trip, and my favourite P.J's. Sometimes if I had a date I'd go all the way into Beverly Hills to The Daisy which was a private club. It was an exciting summer.

Sonny meanwhile had stopped coming in at night and like a camp follower had begun to stop by for lunch on a daily basis. One day in early August he told me that the following Friday would be his 21st birthday and he wanted to invite me to share it with him. I was so deeply honoured that someone would want to spend such a momentous occasion with me, a little girl from the Valley, that I acquiesced. I broke rule number 2. I agreed to go out on the town with Sonny.

But somehow our signals got crossed. I thought we were going to go out dancing and he thought we were going to go to a movie. When he picked me up for our "big date" he met me at the curb which I knew my father would never have approved of. My dad always insisted that the boy come to the door. Sonny also didn't get out of the car to open the door for me which I didn't approve of.

I considered myself to be a lady and expected to be treated like one. He just sort of reached across and threw the metallic blue door open a bit. I got into the car and Sonny immediately made a comment about my disco outfit. So I said, "Well, we are going to P.J's aren't we?"

"No!" he replied, "I thought we'd catch a movie." I point blank told him that I really would rather go dancing. He point blank refused. Check mate! Well, it was his birthday so I guess it was his right to choose where we would go. The next thing I knew we were at the Van Nuys Drive-in Theater. When I found out that he had intended all along to take me to a drive-in movie I hit the roof of that 57 Chevy with the mag wheels.

In my dating survival guide if you break rule number 2, rule number 2a is don't go to a drive-in on a first date. Finally after heated discussion we agreed to a movie but I insisted on a walk-in. The only walk-in cinema that was playing the movie he wanted to see was at the Pan Pacific way over in Hollywood. Somehow I still had this fantasy that I could entice him to take me to P.J's dancing after the movie.

We started off over the hill snaking our way through Laurel Canyon with its twists and curves and it's fragrant Eucalyptus trees. A usually talkative Sonny had suddenly become deathly quiet. He didn't speak a word during the entire ride. He seemed to be brooding. When we pulled up in front of the theater Sonny suggested that I get out and buy the tickets while he parked the car. He then handed me a crisp ten dollar bill.

Every time I had ever seen Sonny he had never exited his 57 metallic blue chevy with the mag wheels, 327 engine, and 4 on the floor. So you can imagine my utter surprise and shock when, a few minutes later, Sonny came hobbling up to the ticket window on hand crutches and only one leg. His left leg had been amputated just below the knee from an injury he had sustained in Viet Nam. This explained why he didn't want to go dancing but it didn't explain why he stopped coming to Johnnie's or why I never saw or heard from him again.

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