Ives was adopted by a widower, who himself was an orphan. Ives was lucky. He had a parent who loved him, provided for him, and encouraged him in his artistic pursuits. There was no pressure for Ives to follow in his adoptive father's trade--printing. Ives was allowed to find his own path. Make his own life.
When I was young, my father, a licensed master plumber, insisted I go on service calls with him. He said that, no matter what I decided to do with my life, I would always have a trade to fall back on. So my summers were a series of blocked sewers, leaking water heaters, plugged toilets, and drippy faucets. I didn't enjoy these days. I would rather have been in my bedroom, reading novels or writing stories and poems and essays.
My father's intentions were good. He worked hard, and he taught me to work hard, as well. My parents both came from pretty humble backgrounds. My mother was raised by a single mother in Detroit (my grandfather died of stomach cancer when my mother was a young girl). My dad grew up on a farm and then moved to Detroit, where my grandfather became a plumber. My mother's mother worked for the railroad and then a local brewery.
I was allowed to find my own path in college. At first, I studied computer science (at the urging of my mother). Four years, I wrote computer programs and took math classes, but I also took literature and writing courses. Upon graduation, I applied to a graduate writing program and was accepted with a teaching fellowship. The rest is history.
I am not a plumber, like my father. I am not a computer programmer. I am a struggling, part-time college instructor. Scribbling poems in my spare time. I thank my parents every day for the chances they provided for me. The choices I was allowed to make.
Saint Marty has very few regrets.
by: Garrett Hongo
At six I lived for spells:
how a few Hawaiian words could call
up the rain, could hymn like the sea
in the long swirl of chambers
curling in the nautilus of a shell,
how Amida’s ballads of the Buddhaland
in the drone of the priest’s liturgy
could conjure money from the poor
and give them nothing but mantras,
the strange syllables that healed desire.
I lived for stories about the war
my grandfather told over hana cards,
slapping them down on the mats
with a sharp Japanese kiai.
I lived for songs my grandmother sang
stirring curry into a thick stew,
weaving a calligraphy of Kannon’s love
into grass mats and straw sandals.
I lived for the red volcano dirt
staining my toes, the salt residue
of surf and sea wind in my hair,
the arc of a flat stone skipping
in the hollow trough of a wave.
I lived in a child’s world, waited
for my father to drag himself home,
dusted with blasts of sand, powdered
and the strange ash of raw cement,
his deafness made worse by the clang
of pneumatic drills, sore in his bones
from the buckings of a jackhammer.
He’d hand me a scarred lunchpail,
let me unlace the hightop G.I. boots,
call him the new name I’d invented
that day in school, write it for him
on his newspaper. He’d rub my face
with hands that felt like gravel roads,
tell me to move, go play, an then he’d
walk to the laundry sink to scrub,
rinse the dirt of his long day
from a face brown and grained as koa wood.
I wanted to take away the pain
in his legs, the swelling in his joints,
give him back his hearing,
clear and rare as crystal chimes,
the fins of glass that wrinkled
and sparked the air with their sound.
I wanted to heal the sores that work
and war had sent to him,
let him play catch in the backyard
with me, tossing a tennis ball
past papaya trees without the shoulders
of pain shrugging back his arms.
I wanted to become a doctor of pure magic,
to string a necklace of sweet words
fragrant as pine needles and plumeria,
fragrant as the bread my mother baked,
place it like a lei of cowrie shells
and pikake flowers around my father’s neck,
and chant him a blessing, a sutra.
Confessions of Saint Marty