National Poetry Month Day 27: Brandy Nālani McDougall






Stand here, on the scarred edge
of this island, where Robert
Wilcox and Samuel Nowlein
would have stood in 1895
fighting to protect Hawai‘i
from white annexationists
backed by the American military.
Here, where Hawai‘i was annexed
without a treaty and in violation
of international law in 1898.
Stand at the jagged edge of 1916,
when Americans drilled and cracked
the reef and bombed coastal cliffs
to build battery after battery
for seacoast guns, reinforced
magazines for munitions,
and command bunkers before
decommissioning them all. Here,
where in 1933, Americans outfitted
a new battery with railway guns
and another magazine before
also decommissioning it. Stand
here, at the manicured edge
of a Black Point estate where
a tobacco heiress, once known
as the richest girl in the world,
built one of her mansions in 1937,
ornamenting her walls and floors
and courtyard with the art, jewels,
and prayers of Muslim people
whose countries, whose homes,
families, lands, and treasures
are bombed and shot by Americans
who bomb and burn and shoot Hawai‘i
to train before leaving for combat.


Stand here, at the top of Black Point,
one of the most exclusive places to live
in Hawai‘i. Stand outside the outer
gate so you understand you don’t belong
in any of their 75 lavish houses. You
have to imagine getting past that gate
and standing outside another—the inner
gate, the one that opens only for those
living in the 8 exclusive estates on Royal
Circle, named, as realtors say, because
only the highest of the Hawaiian chiefs
on O‘ahu once lived there. You can only
stand at the secured edge of that land,
by the guard post, alone, since you’ll never
have the financial portfolio to go in with
a global luxury realtor to tour the oceanfront
estate once owned by the original Magnum, P.I.
Tom Selleck (who now sells kūpuna reverse
mortgages) listed for $23 million or the Bali-
inspired villa for $14.8 million. You strain,
but can’t see where those Americans stand safely
on their cliffside koa decks over the buried batteries
of war watching the distant waves rise and break.


Stand here, at the breaking edge
of Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan
as the American military invades
and raids their oil fields, as the U.S.
chooses their leaders and builds
Middle Eastern bases. Stand here,
as U.S.-backed regimes fall once
U.S. troops leave, as Afghan families
flee to crowded planes, closed borders.
Stand at the sharp edge of Raqqa,
Syria, where 300,000 people once lived,
where the U.S. dropped 10,000 bombs
and destroyed 80% of the city
through air strikes alone. Stand here,
at the receding edge of Palestine,
as Israel fires U.S. weapons to steal
family homes, whole communities, to build
military outposts, then Israeli settlements.
Stand here, on stolen land, at the edge
of fences, checkpoints, and guard posts.
Stand where international law is broken
without consequences. Stand at the edge
of hotels and mansions, military golf courses
over ancestral graves, adverse possession
and deeds from British or French mandate,
Israeli or American settlement and military
base, from overthrow and annexation,
from population transfer, from refugees
in exile left to wander the ruins hungry.


Stand here, at the edge of return,
return to our people whose blood
and flesh and bone and hair, whose
roots and seeds have been ground
into the mud, the sand, held in black
basalt—we, the mauna, moana, ‘āina,
‘ikena—jabal, muhit, ‘ard, almaerifuh.
Stand beside us where we breathe life
into ashes and become simurgh,
‘alae. Where we return from flight,
from bomb and blood, from char
and exile. Where we return as rain
and salt, as eroding winds, as these
waves, as olive groves and orange
trees growing wild as vines of maile.
Stand with us where our lands are
returned and we returned to them.


But first, stand at the edge of truth:

This is not the United States. This is not a Christian state. This
is not the land of the free. This is not a papal bull. This is not
a U.S.-backed regime.

                                                      This is Hawai‘i. Kaho‘olawe. Pōhakūloa.
Mākua. Kapūkaki. This is Guåhan. Litekyan. This is Samoa. This is
Puerto Rico. Vieques. This is the Marianas. Pagan. This is the Marshall
Islands. Bikini. Enewetak. Rongelap. This is the Federated States
of Micronesia. This is Palau. This is Turtle Island. This is Indian
Country. This is Palestine. This is Afghanistan. It is Iraq. It is Iran.
It is Syria. This is Okinawa. This is South Korea. Jeju.

                                                                                                   This is not
paradise. Not virgin land. Not real estate. Not wasteland. Not your
sacrifice or war zone. Not your American lake or wake. Not your
Pacific Pivot. Not your RIMPAC ocean. Not your vacation.
This is stolen land and ocean. This is ancestor and descendant.

This is not Diamond Head.

                                                      This is Le‘ahi.

                                                                                                     This is not Black Point.

This is Kūpikipiki‘ō.

Stand here.
Stand here.




Author photo courtesy of author

Born and raised on Maui in the ahupuaʻa of Aʻapueo, Brandy Nālani McDougall is a poet, scholar, educator, mother, and aloha ʻāina. She is the author of The Salt-Wind, Ka Makani Paʻakai (Kuleana 'Ōiwi Press 2008) and ʻĀina Hānau, Birth Land, which will be released by the University of Arizona Press in June 2023. She is the Hawaiʻi Poet Laureate for 2023-2025, director of the Mānoa Center for the Humanities and Civic Engagement, and an associate professor of Indigenous Studies in the American Studies Department at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She lives with her children in Kalaepōhaku, Oʻahu. More from this author →