Brandy Nālani McDougall: Last Coral Standing

after a painting by Joy Lehuanani Enomoto

You paint an ocean background,
lightening blues and grays. Emptied
of all life, all other color, so the polyps
expelled from their coral crevices
are held in that moment
right before death,
overheated and exposed.

You show us there is a kind
of beauty in their dying, in the way
their vessels constellate
in branches to echo the blood
in our veins, before
the saltwater dissipates every
memory of their being.

But you urge us to remember
there is a brighter beauty in living:

Hānau ka pō
Hānau Kumulipo i ka pō, he kāne
Hānau Pōʻele i ka pō, he wahine
Hānau ka Uku koʻakoʻa, 
hānau kana, he ʻĀkoʻakoʻa, puka

In the Kumulipo, coral polyps,
living in their perforated skeletal
branches, are our eldest
ancestors—What history do we lose
when the turning heat reclaims
them? What saltwater will rise
in us, in that moment, expelling
blood from bone? Who will still
be here to remember that we,
temporary in such temperatures,
too, were beautiful once?


Brandy Nālani McDougall is the author of a poetry collection, The Salt-Wind, Ka Makani Paʻakai (2008), the co-founder of Ala Press, and the co-star of a poetry album, Undercurrent (2011). Her book Finding Meaning: Kaona and Contemporary Hawaiian Literature (University of Arizona Press, 2016) is the first extensive study of contemporary Hawaiian literature. She is an Associate Professor of American Studies (specializing in Indigenous studies) at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.