Gabriel Roca, Head of Teraj at one hundred forty five years old, pine needle drawing, 2015.
One method is strangulation.
Both a method & a result is monopolization of resources.
We discuss plants with a language of violence
Wherever I am,
pines spew their needles under my door.
I’m the ones who pick up pine cones sticky with money.
the white pine scatters across
our driveway; the magnolia scatters, too.
A human is a nature poem in which I hide everything.
My dad has never been to Hawai’i because he’ll never come back.
Kentucky holds him, a hostage to business.
His impending retirement brought to you by Jefferson County Public Schools Ford
Automotives & the dairy industry.
When does what is naturalized become native?
My dad stands tall beside the tall white pine, a forever
friend of the Appalachians, the nearby valleys.
There are no pine trees native to Hawai’i.
Plants — ornamental, highly likely to be
modifying hydrology the nutrient regime or
successful patterns, tolerating
or benefiting from fire, having
viable propagules, rooting —
damage & invade.
Plants threaten amenity values.
Plants have social impacts in areas such as tourism & the military.
The firetree, an evergreen native to the Azores, is still hanging in there in this time of crisis. It has a bumpy berry-like pitted fruit, which is actually a drupe. A familiar cousin is a cherry.
The firetree started invading Hawai’i in the 1800s, when Azorean laborers signed contracts with the then-sovereign Hawaiian monarchy to grow sugar cane on the Islands—for the global market, and we all know what happened next. Mainland Americans don’t remember how we colonized Hawai’i, but the information is right there, in the computer in your hand.
Scientists call species that grow first in a ravaged landscape pioneers. The 'ōhi'a lehua, a red-flowering evergreen, might pop up, all alone, through the ashes of a volcanic eruption, creating a possible ecosystem of the assumed-nothing soil. So the ecologists’ label is all wrong; where the lehua grows, more life will, too.
But the firetree outcompetes its groves, and foreign birds follow to nest as if anywhere is anywhere.
I wonder if it was my great-great-greats who brought the firetree across all that water. Contracted laborers bringing a cutting as a gift, or a means to keep memory alive. Or a handful of drupes forgotten in a pocket, a pit emptied onto the land, a pit indifferent to its context taking root
My grandfather, Pops, was born in the heat of ongoing colonization, in a Hawai’i on the cusp of forced statehood. Yes, in the 30s. Pops attended King Kamehameha High School, one of several still-expanding schools comprising the largest land trust in Hawai’i and established by the last descendant of the King. If Pops spoke pidjin, the Protestants abused him, and like everyone, he existed inside the sudden united states, against an ever-ongoing colonial project.
Notable Alumni of Kamehameha Schools include the Native men enlisted by the u.s. government in the American Equatorial Islands Colonization Project. Had Pops been born just fifteen years earlier, he, too, may have been tasked. To reclaim an abandoned guano site, a speck of island. To attempt to farm, fish, and wait for orders in relative isolation, in the interest of making a new patch of airport. Of militarized America. The islands barely islands. I mean you can see one side from the other and nothing else but sea.
What does a decade mean? A half of one? Could he have eaten a frigate bird, could he have dried fish in the sun, could he have gotten along, played catch, written in a journal excerpted for a documentary, could he have needed a doctor, could he have built a surfboard out of driftwood, could he have been bombed?
He didn’t. He wasn’t. He graduated, enlisted in the Marines, and had a baby in San Diego, babies back in Hawai’i, and babies in Kentucky, where he spent the next and last 47 years of his life.
History refers to every moment
humans touch, to time
and remakes boundaries.
Whenever we’d pass a honeysuckle bush, my mom told and retold me how once, as a kid, she sucked the honey out of a bloom from a vine wound up with poison ivy. She always stuck her tongue out, as if in it I could see the past’s poison, embedded.
The story was not a warning. I never hesitate
to pluck a white flower & pull the stamen out
through its center, just to close
my mouth around one insignificant drop of whatever is
viscous & dew-sweet.
So much life
spreads willy-nilly across the world.
Lonicera japonica, the honeysuckle, vines itself
around every shrub along the highway, claiming
Lately people say white people love science fiction because we get to safely encounter an apocalypse that people, pretty much everywhere, have already suffered, are suffering. The buzz these days about the world ending comes centuries late. My dad loves every movie in which men show up in other people’s houses, on other planets, expecting no one to be there. We watched the Twilight Zone, Soylent Green, & a movie I remember nothing about, except a scattering of metal, half-buried, reflecting all the red red sand. My dad is never afraid, never rooting for the losers, never warned. He grins in vindication.
Wherever the men encounter life, they attempt to repel it. They never can.
In Kentucky, Pops took up forever-work at the Ford Truck Plant. His dad was a machinist on a pineapple farm, and his grandpa, his uncles, so many distant De Regos, fenced and shoed horses and cowboyed on the same cattle ranch. I don’t know if, as Granny raised three babies for their last 4 years on Maui, Pops did any work on the ranch. If he visited his uncles, if his aunties visited his babies, if he thought about his brother dead on the rocks in the surf, if he regretted the Marines, if he thought about his training, if he had friends, if he surfed anymore, if he rode horses, if he wanted any of it, any of it, any of it, if he knew he’d leave, if he knew he’d never come back, if he reflected, if he felt the pressure of history, if he barreled forward through a path he couldn’t imagine a world outside of, if there was no world to imagine, if he could imagine the tobacco the white pines the needles in the driveway, if he knew his kids would be banned from the swimming pool for being brown, if he knew he’d build a pool in his own yard himself, if he missed his life before it started, if he regretted moving back to Hawai’i, if he thought he’d die there, if he ever thought any of it, at all, was worth it.
Inflorescence: a group of flowers on a single stem.
What the stem emerges from is ultimately, itself, a complicated split from many imperfect lines into one line, then back into more lines, and more. Root, trunk, branch, stem, cluster of flowers.
In our history, in us, the whole mess a tangle.
We will never get the knots out.
I love you,
I love you
In Young Frankenstein a girl teaches The Monster to play that lonely game with petals. Chance determines the flow of love or its lack, unless you love plants more than the game, in which case you might know whether the flower’s petals number odd or even.
I don’t remember if The Monster finds love yet at that moment, though by the end of the film, miracle, he does. Out of petals, the girl says Now throw the flower in and wave bye-bye.
A stem in the well.
I don’t know if, on Maui, Pops ever broke
a stalk of the Kahili Ginger & drank
of the flower’s invasiveness.
The plant’s orange spread is greater
than is mappable via any distribution table.
The sphere of sugar waits to drip
into the mouths of birds & children
wherever in the globe the sun shines wettest.
Every species on Sao Miguel & Maui
experience the adaptable, variable
plant’s persistent threats.
Two linked islands mourn
their trees simultaneously as they
sip & sip & sip.
There is no one alive for me to ask,
about Pops. What he tasted or didn’t.
Scientists consider deploying natural enemies as a means to curb invasive species.
But this supposes evolution as a set of stuck
relationships as a strategy of war.
but time teaches us
We can deploy the pathogens,
the rats, the beetles, the moths; when they turn toward
the symbols we’ve made of the flowers,
the plants won’t die the way we want.
There’s no exertion, just communing with the forces.
Energy without end we enter
as if we could win it.
There are only so many ways to bend a vine
& fewer to break it
where it starts.
Note: All details regarding the Equatorial Islands Colonization Project are borrowed from the documentary Under a Jarvis Moon (2010), directed by Noelle Kahanu and Heather Giugni.
Hannah Rego is a writer from Louisville, Kentucky. They are an MFA candidate at the University of Arizona and a founding editor of ctrl+v, a journal of collage. Their work appears in Bettering American Poetry Vol. 3, Lambda Literary, Ninth Letter, BOOTH and elsewhere.