In Hawaii, an End of Innocence
A 6.9 earthquake that struck Hawaii’s Big Island on May 4 was just the beginning of an ordeal that still continues for the people of Puna, a semirural district on the eastern slopes of the island’s Kilauea volcano.
The previous day, the ground split open in the verdant community of Leilani Estates and a series of fissures began spewing fountains of magma and emitting poisonous gases. Leilani’s 1,800 residents were evacuated. More than 700 homes and farms were lost in subsequent weeks as a lava river flowed to the Pacific Ocean and consumed more residential areas.
A volcanic cone has grown to almost 200 feet tall in the middle of the Leilani community as the vigorous eruption continues for the 11th week. Earthquakes triggered by volcanic explosions rock the summit of Kilauea daily, damaging roads and buildings in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and forcing its indefinite closure. The southeast coastline of the Big Island is forever altered as lava meets the ocean along a two-mile front.
Thousands of people remain displaced. Hundreds are still in evacuation shelters, others are staying with friends or relatives or have moved to neighboring Hawaiian islands or the mainland.
Another blow to Hawaiians came July 11, when a Puna charter school, three more homes in Leilani and a popular beach park were inundated.
Sara Simone Wagner’s Leilani home still stands, but she remains evacuated, staying with friends in Hilo, the Big Island’s largest city. She has touched the hearts of many traumatized Hawaiians with a poem she published on the neighborhood social network. The poem speaks to her love of the land, the sometimes terrifying power of nature and, as she puts it, “the end of our innocence.” Truthdig is pleased to reprint it here.
By Sara Simone Wagner
May, a month of promise and beauty
Rolling shakes wake Puna’s slumber
we’re never the same
Fissures appear stage left—and stage right
Subtle cracks, soon gaping chasms
shifting rift zones
mounting cinder cones
Alexander palms against a red night sky
Bolders fly through pressured cracks
tephra covered pain
breaks on Alapai
toxic poison rain
missing pets on Pomaikai
Cruel slow burn and acrid air
seizes homes and structures
civil defense lectures
interrupted lives to manage
Kilauea unrelents with ashy plumes
fingers of lava
hot unwanted embrace
like too-hot java
burns at the taste
Moku gashed open like a battle scar
lava hits sizzling ocean
new land will avow
deep as Halemaumau
Evening curfews with midnight looters
gas masks tightened
Hissing bay with dangerous laze
homes burn slow
caldera again deflates
We mourn Kapoho
Power outages and scorching air
crimson glows at night
our reminder you see
of Pele’s might
in our sweet, sweet Leilani
(Makamae, Kahukai, Alapai, Pomaikai and Moku are the names of streets in Leilani Estates. Pahoehoe is a lava formation that looks like rope strands. Tephra is the name for rock fragments and particles ejected in an eruption. Halemaumau is the collapsing crater at the Kilauea summit. Laze is toxic haze formed when lava enters the ocean. Kapoho is another community that was lost to the current flow. Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of fire, respected as creator and destroyer of the island chain.)
Truthdig will publish poems that offer insight into current events and sociopolitical themes relevant to today’s world. From entries across the nation, Truthdig staff will select poems based on both their artistic qualities as well as the social issues they discuss. To read our guidelines and submit a poem for our consideration, click here.