Skip to main content

Kubota Writes to José Arcadio Buendía

ISSUE:  Winter 2008

There was no history in your village, as there wasn’t in mine,
Until the day a B-17 circled over us, turning at Laie Point,
And forgoing the water-landing in the lagoon by the Beauty Hole,
Clipping the Cook pines by hole No. 9 and the Filipino graves,
To land, big as a green-brown whale, on Kahuku Golf Course.
It was a miracle like ice for you, a hole in reality a gypsy brought
So that you could stick your finger into it, rip it large, and see
What might be the future that had only you and your forgetfulness
As the past from which to derive its phantasms of pain and glory.
We, on the other hand, though mesmerized as you, wanted for nothing
Except story—a window like a pathway to the world beyond us—
For we could already see we were surrounded by the aquamarine of seas,
Our world a deathlessness between the splashes of wave and wind.
And so we ran down our dirt Jeep roads, across dunes piled by the shore,
Betweens stones marking the collected dead of our kumpadres in the
And onto the stubbly greens of what we’d made for our leisure joy—
A nine-hole set of golf links set beside the sea on sandy ground.

I saw it was a plane, lowest in the sky and with American markings,
A bomber with its tail and rudder shot ragged, smoke from its hydraulics
Trailing like a kite’s blue-gray tail, a long smudge over the choppy sea.
It was the first any of us had seen up close, though, and we wanted
To touch it as if it were a newborn thing we had to wash and wonder over.

When it landed, I was on the batcher just above the ditch from the piggery,
And I could see it heave like a frigate bird as it touched down,
Making a sound, not like a creature of air but like a bucket
Full of nails and screws being set down on a scrabbly beach of stones—
Metallic, heavy, and with a weight out of scale with our knowing.

People ran toward it, streaming through the canefields like mice
Fleeing a burning, but they stopped and made a hushed circle around it,
Maybe thirty feet away, children kneeling down and crawling forward
For closer looks, women straightening their muslin dresses, men
In khakis and straw hats, boots caked with mud and bagasse,
Glancing toward each other as if to ask, Who will possess this dream?

I saw my wife among them, down by the narrow neck of a green fairway.
I recognized her from the neat swirl of her black hair against her head,
The cotton muumuu she’d sewn from Botan rice sacks, peonies
At her shoulders like epaulets, yellow butterflies across her bodice.
She held her hands clasped, as if in sleep or prayer, against the side of her face,
And the wind furled around her like current flowing through fingers of coral.

I felt tied to a tree, as you were José, and wanted to reach my arms out
toward her,
But nothing but horror moved within me as the hatch-door was flung open
And the young airman hurled himself through, tumbling to the sandpatchy grass,
Hitting his shoulder, then lying like a green-and-brown octopus tangled in
its own limbs,
Not moving but heaving, all of us forestalling our futures in this brief

What came next was nothing magical—from this miracle no astrolabe was gifted to me
To present further mysteries and delights. No lifelong friend with alchemy
in his soul,
Magnets in his kit, or tales of esoteric cabals that knew secrets of the afterlife.
It was a captain who came, filling the opened hatchway with his large shadow.
He was holding something, and, from the flap of leather attached to his leg,
I knew it would be a pistol, which he pointed toward my gathered neighbors,
Who flinched and took steps backward, then stopped as soon as he spoke.

The engines had ceased their coughing by then and nothing but the soughing of wind
Through ironwood trees came through to me, though I could see he’d
ordered them.

No one moved after that, and the captain swung himself from the plane to earth
Like a sloth swings from a treelimb to the leaf-littered floor of a forest.
It was gymnastic and nonchalant, something I might’ve admired, had the
bile of fear
Retching up in me not been there, as the man staggered toward his comrade
Lying on the green, jittering the pistol in his shaking hand like a landing strut.

What he shouted then I could hear clearly. It was the name we’d all be called
From that day on, an epithet made ready in the mainland papers I’d read as wrappings
On farm tools and aluminum cookware that I stocked in the plantation store.
Japs! he’d said, and it would be the word that brought us, the ignored and isolate,
Into the history of the world to number among its wretches, ripped from our villages,
No longer who we were to each other, but who these others needed us to be for their rage.


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading