I was interested in exploring diverse voice during the month of January. Voices that don’t get heard as much as others. Garrett Hongo is Asian American and from the poem the reader can tell that he grew up in the United States as a second generation Asian American.
The world that he shows us might be unfamiliar to us. A beautiful garden in the back of his parents’ filling station and also the house where they lived. It sounds like things weren’t always easy for the Hongo’s. The poet conveys an unsteady world where things must be packed up quickly at a moment’s notice. Take your valuables and hike to the hills, she’s gonna blow!
I’m white. In my world moving takes planning and money and time. One must mark one’s calendar and make arrangements and fill out forms and inform the proper people of the proper things. But in this poem life is more unsteady, more unpredictable. There is a wild beauty to it “[running] through the orchids, ferns, and plumeria” and the “earth’s belly,/Thudding like the bell of the Buddhist Church” and a bit of a humor “the dark skinny man, shirtless and grinning…lifts a naked baby above his head”, but we the readers wonder if it might take its toll after a while. They are not well off, they drive an old rickety car, an Edsel, and they live in a store. There, for a few stanzas, is a feeling of desperation as people run from their homes and the father tells everyone to be quiet as he strives to get instructions on what to do. And what happens when she does blow? This conveys a feeling of a life of random frenzy and unsteadiness. The poem gives us a window into this world. We are forced to consider what our lives might be like if we were forced to live in a place that was precarious, where any minute everything we know might end.
Can you visualize this time? This place? This situation? Can you understand what it must be like? Perhaps the poet is sharing more than just a moment of his life. Imagine this is where you live. This is who you are.
The Hongo Store
29 Miles Volcano
by Garrett Hongo
From a photograph
My parents felt those rumblings
Coming deep from the earth’s belly
Thudding like the bell of the Buddhist Church.
Tremors in the ground swayed the bathinette
Where I lay squalling in soapy water.
My mother carried me around the house,
Back through the orchids, ferns, and plumeria
Of that greenhouse world behind the store,
And jumped between gas pumps into the car.
My father gave it the gun
And said, “Be quiet,” as he searched
The frequencies, flipping for the right station
(The radio squealing more loudly than I could cry).
And then even the echoes stopped —
The only sound the Edsel’s grinding
And the bark and crackle of radio news
Saying stay home or go to church.
“Dees time she no blow!”
My father said, driving back
Over the red ash covering the road.
“I worried she went go for broke already!”
So in this print the size of a matchbook,
The dark skinny man, shirtless and grinning,
A toothpick in the corner of his smile,
Lifts a naked baby above his head —
Behind him the plate glass of the store only