In memory of Harrietta Lee Watanabe, 1944-2001
She was born in Volcano, Hawai’i and so we put dwarf palms
around our patio. That will do, said mother hurriedly.
Harrietta descended onto the platform like she expected waves
to tickle her ankles. Her Sears suitcase banged against her legs;
she wouldn’t let us take it.
We were mainland kids trying our best to treat her
gently as we’d been warned to do.
Watching my cousin unpack brought a sharp pain to my belly:
my clumsy crocheted caps in blue, pink and yellow,
the ABC quilt my mother had knitted with uneven stitches—
Harrietta had kept them all.
Hideko Watanabe, smiling shyly in his U.S. Army uniform, she placed
dead center atop my bureau, sweeping aside empty bottles and trinkets.
I’m ready, she announced, opening her arms.
That summer Harrietta taught us card tricks, the secret to perfect
smoke rings, the correct way to apply Maybelline mascara,
all eight choruses of “I Saw The Lights in Waikiki,”
and suddenly she was leaving.
You’re too young, she explained,
Come visit when you’ve lost a husband or a baby.
We felt shame for our innocence and my mother’s lips tightened,
but she said only, Harrietta,
you’re welcome back, any time.