Two Poems

Feather Lei
Emily Benton

“All of the birds are not taken…Bird catchers say that they always leave some behind to grow up.” – Kepelino Keauokalani, 1865 

“Modern-day artisans use…feathers of virtually any birds that are not an endangered species.” – Maui Nō Ka ʻOi Magazine, 2009 

Peacock, hawk, honeycreeper, starling:
Darlings, if you are not
chased by mongoose or maimed
by bumblefoot, sentenced

to dumpster-diving or forced
by mosquito to a higher peak
than your highest perch, you are
in this most vulnerable state:

plucked and sewn back together
into the shape of a sound
you never made— O, this new you
is no doubt better than cat’s claw

or virgin soil’s fate. Better yet,
you’re inside a glass case
that reads Do not touch. At best,
you’re around the aunties’ necks—

petted, tame, shown off like diamonds
for speeches or plays.
I’ve heard someone chanted a prayer,
lifted smoke at each body’s

resting place (some far from first nests,
others where you were raised.)
Did they also pray they might live
like you—vocal, unbound—

and die of old age? For they, too, must
ruffle at the thought of their art:
a chain of songs nearly erased
by buckshot and leather glove.
The Other Country

Rain sweeps over the volcano unheard. You don’t stir, lulled by frogs’ tinny calls in the canopy. Our house-on-stilts, like houses in the other country, bends against a current while waters rise from a moon hours out at sea. My phone on the nightstand quietly alerts: 5.5 Fiji, 4.6 Japan, 3.0 Papua New Guinea. Every day, earthquakes populate the map. You were once a desk chair’s axis, a globe spun and steadied. Once, the ground rolled like a wave but I kept dicing my onions, the blade remarkably in sync. That was that—another rainbow, another red fire bubbling elsewhere. Each morning, the frogs close their throats and birds cast notes as coastlines recede. I clear our plates of worry, resting them like idols on a shelf. But in our dream, we are the other country. Surely, we think, a siren will wake us.

Benton photo

A graduate of the MFA Writing Program at UNC Greensboro, Emily A. Benton is an assistant poetry editor for storySouth and a former poetry editor for The Greensboro Review. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Barn Owl Review, Southern Poetry Review, Yemassee, Radar Poetry, and Waccamaw. Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, she moved to Pahoa, Hawai‘i in 2012. She now lives and works in Honolulu.


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