new zealand electronic poetry centre



B R A N D Y   N Ā L A N I   M c D O U G A L L

Brandy Nālani McDougall is a poet of Kanaka Māoli, Chinese and Scottish descent, born and raised in upcountry Maui. A 1994 graduate of the Kamehameha Schools, she received her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Oregon. She was the 2002 recipient of the James Vaughan Award for Poetry and has published in literary journals throughout the US. Most recently, she completed a Fulbright Award to Aotearoa/New Zealand, where she conducted interviews on creative development with other indigenous Pacific writers. She plans to use these interviews to begin a creative writing support network for young artists in Hawai‘i and throughout Oceania. Her first collection of poetry, Origins, is near completion.

Emma, 1993

Malihini no nā keiki o ka la kou ‘āina pono‘ī iho.
The children of the land are strangers in their own land.
                                                – ‘Ō lelo No‘eau

I used to wake to my mother sitting in the dark,
looking out the open window
at the far harbor lights. She stared

and stared, turning the gold bracelets
with her Hawaiian name in black,
her wrists flashing spark after spark.

I didn’t know what this meant,
why she didn’t sleep, why
she waited, breathing in the chilly rain.

What I did know, only sounds:
footsteps on the porch, the metal clink
of her bracelets, the swish of her dresses

like wind through the cane field,
my baby sister’s soft cries
after the click of closed doors.

But I talk as if she had died, as if
the choice was not hers to make.
Rather, she left.

She chose love,
the kind of coarse sugar, saltwater
to press to her lips. Watch it stream down

her face, her hands, those men, the love
turning and flashing –
the kind daughters can’t give.

Bitterness tells me that’s how it should be:
a love story about the naupaka blossoms,
two halves of a flower, without

symmetry or completion, separate,
immovable, my harsh longing to last
through hotels, highways and car lots to come.



Last updated 04 July, 2004