(Ancient Hawaiian — “breath of life…)


In the Western World men erected statues

in materials and forms so muscled and marbled

they chilled the chambers wherein they stood


For centuries, no paintings were hung

of a laughing Jesus


Fathers slapped small boys for weeping,

slapped them again and again

until their bodies became armored and dull


On desolate football fields coaches screamed

in one-hundred degree heat for them

to breathe through their nostrils

until they dropped into the gravel and dirt


Drill sergeants shouted directly into their ears,

commanded them to stand tall, harden their asses,

be men, kill without mercy


They learned to hold their breath just before they fired,

to swallow the urge to vomit standing over gutted bodies,

inhale and hold it, look but not see, count to five


As men, they handed other men a fist,

both greeting and warning,

tested the gripping power of the other for a flaw


In barber shops, along wooden bars in dark taverns

of underarm stench and rancid breath,

they hoarded what they felt, never showed a hand,

firmed their jaws, didn’t flinch, never let a smile

grow too wide, a laugh too loud


In board rooms across from Wall Street warlords

who drew their aces from below,

they learned to bluff, wait for a wild card,

grab the dirty cash and run



The ones who dare wake one morning

on a seashore to an empty beach house,

the woman gone during the night with

the car, the children and the past


The sand is barren; the ocean calm

On impulse they dive from a bluff

into deeper waters, madly chase

boldly colored fish this way and that

hoping for an answer to a question

they feel helpless to recall


They find the ocean has no words,

that fish will always be silent,

tear away their masks and freely

give themselves up to untamed waves

sucking them down, raising them up,

under a sky as naked blue as

the defiance that leads them back

to the primal rhythms of the sea