A Thank You Note to the Poet Wayne Kaumuali’i Westlake, and the Beloved Leanne Kaʻiulani Ferrer for Sending Me His Book

The following poem is written in the spirit of Wayne Kaumuali’i Westlake’s work, as presented in Westlake, poems by Wayne Kaumuali’i Westlake (1947-1984), edited by Mei-Li M. Siy and Richard Hamasaki (2009). These poems honor Westlake’s idea that “There’s poetry all around us—we only have to open our eyes and see it—incidents, thoughts, feelings, experiences all grounded in everyday life—these are the flesh and bones of this poetry—recorded as they waste away.”

I. Not Right For Us

They’re not even trying
to hide it anymore,
they just come right out and say
there is an Us
and you are not it

Oh whoops. There’s more. Was just about to throw this away…

Not only are you not Us
you aren’t even right 
for Us 
in your wildest dreams
you could never get in here
and these are the nice

When I’m walking the canal
and it stinks extra that day
of sewage and sulphur 
and the Heron’s feet are sunk 
in what passes for mud around here
I wonder who the other not-us’s are

           what their lives are like

                                    if we’ll ever meet

II. My Yellow Oriole

First time,
I sneaked a look at him
through one hundred tiny 
leaves of a bush
then he flew high in a tree
stop lookin at me!

Second time, it called to me
little chits chit chit chit
I wasn’t gonna stop
thought it was just another one
of God’s many brown sparrows

then I thought, aw, God’s sparrows!
stopped at the chain link, looked in the bush
there he was, so close, and so golden

III. You Break It, You Buy It

When you buy it,

                  you break it.

IV. American Majority

I used to think 
this meant
voting, like
would blue win
or red (green 
never has a chance!)

you showed me
they are
a bruise
on the body
of the ones who 
cherish stones

bruises that turn golden
when they heal

sunflowers scattered
in a meadow

V. While You Were Worried About My Gender

60,000+ acres of the Sierra Nevadas
were burning and some ash made the moon
glow orange over a city thousands of miles away


I had not known about the incredible life and poetry of Wayne Kaumuali’i Westlake until I watched Down on the Sidewalk in Waikiki by filmmaker Justyn Ah Chong, a narrative short film based on the work of the late Hawaiian poet. The film was supported by the organization Pacific Islanders in Communication (PIC), which was led at the time by Leanne Kaʻiulani Ferrer (1967-2021). My professional nonprofit work had brought me to the PIC conference in Honolulu at the end of 2019, where I had the good fortune of spending time with Leanne. As an avid reader, I asked her for some recommendations on books by Native authors. She gave me a copy of Westlake, poems. I found Westlake’s poetry to be impulsive, reactive, and responsive to the world around him—a world comprised of his indigenous Hawai’i: the land and people—as well as the intruders on that land—capitalists, colonizers, and anyone bent on exotifying the land and its people, and using it for monetary gain. While his work is very political, it is also very personal, and reveals a humble, dynamic human who is enthralled by the people and the world around him, the creative process, and the ethereal and flawed nature of our human existence. “Everything is poetry to Me” Westlake writes, even his 33rd rejection notice. “My poems are autobiography—like poetic diary—moments immediately recorded that would otherwise have passed by unnoticed.” I was incredibly moved by this notion, and by Westlake’s work. At the height of the pandemic, searching for bits of life to hang onto, I wrote these poems that capture moments, and feelings, that would otherwise have passed me by unnoticed.  

About the Author

Melissa Bałut Fondakowski is a professional nonprofit consultant. Her debut chapbook of poetry, _Impatiens_, was chosen as the winner of the Sow’s Ear Review poetry chapbook competition. Her reviews, articles, poetry and fiction have appeared, or are forthcoming, in San Francisco MagazineLavender Review, Women’s Studies Quarterly, the San Francisco ChronicleCider Press Review, and others. Bałut Fondakowski received a degree in Psychiatry and Religion from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, and writes regularly at Unfit to Print [1].

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