Necesito Correr


Hale Kai Restaurant, Fairmont Orchid, Big Island, Hawaii  

I regularly start stories with the same first line: “A funny thing happened at Home Depot the other day.” For those of you who don’t know, I learn Spanish (and teach English) in the Home Depot parking lot one day a week throughout the semester.

Thus, a funny thing happened at Home Depot the other day. It was nearly 2:30PM, and we were about to wrap up our hour-long language exchange. We were shaking hands around the circle and offering, “Mucho gusto” and “Nice to know you” in our most practiced accents.

Typically, after this cordial ritual, if I do not have a meeting or another class, I send my college students off and linger a little to chat about gardening (how Lalo’s avocado tree is so much taller, how I plan to plant before the next rains) or when my plans are for traveling to Mexico next (mid-June, I promise).

Then, I regularly say, “Necesito correr” (I need to run) and often posture slo-mo running as I head off to my car. It is my way of sharing an English expression that seems silly in Spanish. (It’s pretty much as close as I get to being able to tell jokes in Spanish.)

The guys who regularly participate in our exchange know this is just my way of essentially saying “the end,” and I follow it with: “See you next week; hasta la proxima.”

However, Alejandro, a man unknown to me before Monday, offered graciously to meet me in a park ay 6PM to run laps and help me get in a mile (five laps) as he understood me clearly state that I need to run.

I tried to explain that it is an idiomatic expression, that I didn’t really need to run, that I knew what I was saying, but I was playing with the words, and that I was grateful for his offer, but that last bit made him think I wanted to meet him at 6PM. And, he offered additional advice for a pleasant, evening run.

By this time, the other guys were beyond giggling; one even held on to a tree as he was guffawing. I felt bad; Alejandro was being friendly and generous. The least I could do was explain what an idiom is. But I had to run.

This experience made me think of a piece I read on the Poetry Foundation’s website:

Language Lesson 1976

by Heather McHugh



When Americans say a man

takes liberties, they mean


he’s gone too far. In Philadelphia today I saw

a kid on a leash look mom-ward


and announce his fondest wish: one

bicentennial burger, hold


the relish. Hold is forget,

in American.


On the courts of Philadelphia

the rich prepare


to serve, to fault. The language is a game as well,

in which love can mean nothing,


doubletalk mean lie. I’m saying

doubletalk with me. I’m saying


go so far the customs are untold.

Make nothing without words,


and let me be

the one you never hold.


*Write about a misunderstanding due to language or cultural barrier. If you don’t have one off the top of your head, ( has an idiom of the day.

** Talk to random people in parking lots to see what misunderstandings unfold.

No Love


Photo: Cat Diner, fourth hole,Waikoloa Beach Golf Course, Big Island, Hawaii

Love After Love

by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Avoid drafting love poems about your lover. You can write love poems about fruit, or weather–anything but your lover. (Think Neruda’s Odes to Common Things.) Skip the inclination to craft even a single love poem unless you can celebrate your beloved as ecstatically as Rumi (“I Have Five Things to Say:” or as abrasively as Shakespeare (“Sonnet 130,” “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…”), unless you can “feast on your life” as Wolcott shows us in the poem above. Eschew attempts to exalt any “love supreme”—unless you’re John Coltrane.

*If you can’t resist the temptation, start with “I Have Five Things to Say.” What are these things you need to say?


Kids Say

posters1           posters2

Photos: Drawings by children advocating against development on Mauna Loa, found at the Imiloa Astronomy Center, Big Island, Hawaii

I spent the afternoon with my seven-year-old friend Victor. We were standing near a fountain outside of the strip mall’s restaurant before lunch when he asked me for a penny to make a wish.

He peered into the water to see if others had deposited coins before him, but he was undeterred as he counted that his coin would be first. In fact, a budding mathematician, he liked his odds that fortune still remained for his petition.

Backing up to the base of the water feature, he tossed the coin and spoke his humble request: I choose freedom for all people.

Me too. And, if not, I wish those of us who are not free the power to mentally transcend the hours of our captivity.

And, this reminds me of Laetitia Pilkington’s “The Wish, By a Young Lady:”

I ask not wit, nor beauty do I crave,

Nor wealth, nor pompous titles wish to have;

But since, ’tis doomed through all degrees of life,

Whether a daughter, sister, or a wife;

That females should the stronger males obey,

And yield implicit to their lordly sway;

Since this, I say, is ev’ry woman’s fate,

Give me a mind to suit my slavish state.

Source: English Women’s Poetry, Elizabethan to Victorian (edited by R.E. Pritchard)

*A fragment of the story is in the air; you just need to listen for it. When Victor uttered this wish aloud, I was grateful for what he gave me and for the reminder of the poem above.

Microscope: Short Short Review

caldera2   caldera!

Hale ma’Uma’U Caldera,  Hawaii Volcanoes National Monument, Big Island, Hawaii

This story forces its way from a magazine and nearly strangles with its precision, mugging readers with its despair.

Even if you think you know grief, you have never uttered it or written it or read it like this. So many other versions of loss ooze hundreds of gallons of blood and buckets of tears. This story is not loud, but its mournful wail fills you.

The effect is like death to a witness: A whooshing rush, stabbing pain, and then sudden flight in the talons of great winged euphoria.

*Write a tiny review, in fewer than one-hundred words, that focuses on the effect of a piece rather than the plot or message. Give a sense of your criteria. (I insist creative writing students avoid bathing readers in vats of blood and buckets of tears.)