Garrett Hongo on Slate + other recent work

If you haven't seen this already, click over to Slate and read Garrett Hongo's featured poem, "Pupukea Shell." And as an added bonus, you can hear Garrett read the poem. Beautiful.

I assume that the poem will appear in Garrett's forthcoming book, Coral Road, which will be a must-have purchase for any reader.

If you read literary journals, no doubt you've seen a lot of his work recently. Journals like Ploughshares, VQR, Raritan, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review. All the big ones.

Here's one of my favorites from the last few years. Cannot wait for the new collection.


The Child's Ark

Hot Los Angeles summer days, late '50's, a seven-year-old
Shut in the tiny, midtown apartment on South Kingsley Drive,
I'd flip on the TV to the black-and-white game shows,
Rerun comedies, and half-hour detective dramas,
Seeking company, avoiding the soaps, news, and cartoons.

One of my favorites for a while was a show called Kideo Village,
In which kids would wend their way through the attractive curves
Of a game path spooling through the sound studio and its faux lampposts,
Small minimalist archways, doors, pushcarts, and streetstands
Set up and interspersed along the telegenic route--
A bakery, a toy shop, the ice cream parlor, etc.
The tragedies strewn in the way would be a bookstore or piggy bank--
For one you'd have to lose a turn and stay inside to read a book,
For the other, you'd give up spending for a certificate of virtue.

The glory was a pet store of fluffy animals--
Nose-twitching rabbits bearing sachets of cash around their necks,
A dog hitched to a wagon filled with sacks of stage gold.
Wealth was the message, the child contestants obliged
To exercise the right energy and enterprise
To run themselves briskly through the board's intricate arrangement
Of pleasure, danger, and delight without risk,
Their assignment to luck into opportunities
That would set off crescendos of bells ringing,
Video paradisos of lights flashing through the transparent lucite under their feet.

Yet it was splendor and the minute articulations of a fantasy village's architecture
That mesmerized me, that a child could skip along in a moment's time
Without having to be put in a car or be handled by adults,
To a candy store, movie house, or shop full of cream puffs.
Glee and surprise were everywhere just on the next luminous square
Around the looping turn on the glittering game board.
When the power went out one day, or perhaps when the show was cancelled,
I got out scissors, paper, and pens, Crayolas arranged in stick puddles
On the dingy, carpeted floor of the apartment's living room,
Mapping out a village of my own on wax paper from a kitchen drawer.
I found empty green stationery boxes my mother brought home from work,
Tore the labels off, drew on them, marked rectangles for doors;
I cut windows, made folding blinds, used the leftover cutouts
To make counters and tables, a long, folded cardboard flume
For water to run in a sluice . . . the tofu-maker, the rows of shacks,
A union hall where my uncles would gather, my aunt's gas station
On the highway, clear glass medicine bottles for pumps,
The peaked roof of Kahuku Betsu-In, the barber's, the butcher's,
The Chinese Association . . .

This was the village we left behind--
And our apartment, the scatter of debris on its floor, my child's ark of the lost world.

Garrett Hongo
from Ploughshares, Spring 2007

Other poems by Garrett Hongo @ Against Oblivion:

"Mendocino Rose"
"Under the Oaks at Holmes Hall, Overtaken by Rain"