Culture & Criticism Since 2003
“(and)From “I Wonder What You’re Thinking on Your Death Bed,” page 62
I wonder what
You’re thinking today
Like dank mirrored spears
When I was a teenager in Hawaii in the 1950s, there were two subjects, sex and death, that no one other than the Waikiki beachboys I knew would talk about. I had grandparents and great-grandparents die during my early years, but, even though I asked, no one in my family would tell me what had killed them. The funerals I had to attend with bodies displayed in satin-lined coffins seemed grotesque, and the conventional and often cliché-ridden eulogies expressed at the services seemed absurd.
As a stark and welcomed contrast, the traditional beachboy funerals meant something, and were in fact enjoyable. We paddled outrigger canoes a half mile to sea and put the ashes into the Pacific Ocean, and flower leis after the ashes. Then we paddled back and gathered to drink beer and eat, and do what Hawaiians call “talk story.” Most of the stories, some of them funny, were about the dead beachboy – his actual virtues, his unfortunate flaws, and who loved him and now would miss him, and why.
Poet John Aiello grew up on a ranch in northern California, and I have no idea whether or not he’s ever visited Hawaii, but that doesn’t matter. Like beachboy funeral stories, his Poems For Dead Parents are honest and respectful, and also finely written. Paradoxically, his ability to write candidly about death brings his subjects back to life. That’s an impressive gift.
Oregon writer Michael Baughman, who was born in Buffalo, New York and raised in Pennsylvania and Hawaii, is the author of nine books, including the just-released An Old Man Remembering Birds (OSU Press). Baughman previously taught literature and writing at Southern Oregon State University in Ashland for 30 years.