Four Works by Danielle P. Williams

two sonnets / for mothers

any foreign mother knows america
has it’s own fees / so do we / the children
the slow erasure / the vessels crossing many
seas / these high-tides strong like rush hour high-
ways to nowhere / which way is america? / how long
til water becomes dirt? / til the journey brings us
to safety? / safely? / we’ve been promised / lives / land
there is a trigger- / fish stretched over saipan
trace the points along it’s body / let the rising and
setting stars become a guide / find whatever it is that
serves you / in america / being a color / not white / is like
serving time / chain bolted to feet bolted to ground
the ash of dust / collecting at your ankles / the sound
of the waves / so close / so close / how long til dirt becomes grave?

any foreign mother will point / you / to the wall
closest to the door / motion for you to take off your shoes
in her home / my own / mother / is a complicated woman
for most of our lives / we have been foreign / to one another
watching afar / biding / waiting for a place to call
our own / we live on the surface / drown with our
backs turned / who knows what we yearn / I don’t
know her well / she doesn’t know / me / I am a rogue
wave / my own way / I am destruction / sometimes
I am / saving lives / my own way / writing away
from the chaos / from the blood / that bonds us
sometimes / I am afraid / to ask / what haunts you?
sometimes / I am afraid / that / you / won’t / bring yourself
to show me / you / at my home / there is a mat at the door / for shoes

When people ask me what I am instead of who

I’m a Black girl
            a Chamorrita
Flesh and bone
            curl and coconut oil

Brutal and honest but silent as
            dust settling on unused ceiling fans
A thing of decoration
            a way of completing a room

A mother’s daughter
            Matanane and Brown
                        Manglona and Williams
Something my ancestors dreamed

I think
            I’m a dream too
Someone’s last wish
            a history of sorts

Some call me modern day storyteller
            a villager reciting my angst
Against the sea          ripping apart and
            coming together again with my unsung words

I am many half-written poems in
            bodies of water my body cannot store properly
Poems and songs and psalms all of which
            make my hips shake and ache

Catch me wandering to the alter
            after the call
A new believer
            hymnal turned remix and lives made whole

With ears ready to listen to church break-
            downs lasting twenty whole minutes if you act right
A moment of joy hinged on my
            knees and prayer hands

Reprise in the form of flesh

I Have Heavy Hips Like My Mother

        In this picture, I’m standing amidst cousins. Nine of us wearing the designs of one nana or another. A relic to remember the days we were once in the same room. We didn’t really know what message our bodies were meant to deliver as we swayed and said the things our mouths were not allowed to. We only knew that hula told the history of people. So we tried to focus our palms, our hips, our wild smiles, get them sitting serious.
        And there are so many questions I have. Like how do four-year old’s have six-packs? And why is Geoffrey the only one with long sleeves?
        When I show this to others and they ask, which one is you?, will I always respond my same way? My quick tongue:
        “The only one with big hair. Mom never learned what to do with it. There wasn’t Black family near us to teach her.”
        I point to me: pink and teal lava two-piece adorning my tiny body, ti leaf headdress, matching lei dangling from my shoulders on down torso, sweeping above my toes. I point to me: brown like the others and hope they understand.

        The older girl cousins stand Kāwelu, Kalākaua, named for the grass, with their arms up, palms facing inward, touching tips like spears. Us younger girls stand ʻUwehe, ʻUweke, both palms resting on our proud hips. Open, Open. The boys pose, props on bend and knee, the biggest teeth in the shot. I study my own face, understand it as something I’ve always done: zoning out. Making more of the stories I’m told than others. Creating worlds where moments like this remain still. A story within a story.

        I am the story of my mother, too. A talented dancer. Carrying our Mariana Islands with the strength of her thighs. She danced her dance in Belgium. Germany. She said it was a way to connect, share culture with other islanders from military families away from home like her.
        She stayed in Germany even after the military took our family elsewhere. It was easy for me to understand this need. Finding what home could be without the people you’re born to. Writing a life outside of theirs.

        “There were two managers of our hālau. They taught at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii, now they teach us.”
        She talked about how we were not the kind of people who wrote things down, and I understood that to be a shining example of being taught to live in the moment. Without revision. That we are remembered not in books, but by dances. In shared pains.

        I thought about the kind of magic that lives in these kinds of histories. Ones that don’t need words to be brought to life. Us cousins in that photo, unaware of the history we held.
        I thought about hula dancers as magicians. Planting stories at the feet from bones long buried. Guiding gazes with the bent curve of well-timed hands.

All the Ocean

I tasi lumalalai minagof guatu gi as Yu’os
I tasi bumabaila minagof guatu gi as Yu’os
                                                                                                    The ocean sings for the joy of the Lord
                                                                                                    The ocean dances for the joy of the Lord
I tasi lumalalai                   and so I sing
I tasi bumabaila                  and so I dance
I tano I man Chamorro                   and so I am      the land      too
I am native     to these waves
The joy in the heart of low-tide
                                       a strong body
                                       a heavy retreat
I bring as much of me back         as the Lord allows me          as Yu’os          as Yu’os
I tasi bumabaila             I dance and I feel like home     I tasi             I tasi
I tasi    the ocean             the ocean it may drown me    but     but     but      I never die      I tasi
I tasi     the ocean             the ocean             all the ocean       it could claim me and I would not care
I tasi     lumalalai             bumabaila             sing      dance    lumalalai       bumabaila    sing   dance
live     live     in water where my sins         could never be         minagof guatu gi as Yu’os
baptize me                  taotao  I tasi        I am from the ocean         all the ocean
Yu’os     wash me       of my pain         make me new again

Danielle P. Williams is a Black and Chamorro writer and spoken-word artist from Columbia, South Carolina. She has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets 2021, with fellowships from Palm Beach Poetry Festival, The Watering Hole, and The Alan Cheuse Center for International Writers. She completed her B.A. in Arts Administration at Elon University in 2016, and her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at George Mason University in 2021. Her poems were selected for the 2020 Literary Award in Poetry from Ninth Letter. You can find her work in Juked Magazine, ANMLY, Hobart, Flypaper Lit, Barren Magazine, and elsewhere. She is currently based in Los Angeles. For more, visit Twitter: @dpwpoetry

Banner: From America. Digital Art by Robert Frede Kenter (c) 2021. Twitter: @frede_kenter

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