Bright Standing Bowl (Federated States of Micronesia)

Lawrence Lenhart

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Chapter 0: Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox

from The Book of Luelen, final Xerox: I have made this book to serve as a reminder of the beginnings of all the great accounts of olden times; not many accounts, but only certain good ones, and they are not so very correct, for there is no person whose accounts are in good sequence, and their accounts of origins are poorly expressed; but this is a reminder of these matters of olden times. (7)1


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Another Chapter: No Tribute

It was the kind of village where sons would convey their fathers on royal carriers to collect tributes: mostly baskets and slingstones, eels and turtle meat, and dozens upon dozens of fish. The sons strung the fish through their gills, and presented them to the families of the People of the Canoe. The chiefs’ wives would pound breadfruit and grind kava leaves for the royal beverage.

For a long time, they didn’t know where we lived. I had erased the path to my house, letting the banana trees and palm fronds form natural barricades. We were lucky to go so long unnoticed. If our family had a motto, it was likely, Shh! When they found us, we were unusually fat. We thought we would be murdered for our absence. Indeed, the chiefs and their sons formed a demonstrative semicircle in the yard. It was a geometric display of aggression. Rather than welcome them, I kept on pretending like we hadn’t been found. I took the next dart from my pouch and flung it like a torpedo toward the clay board.

“We are here for our tribute,” a man said.

“We demand a tribute.” This was his father.

When I didn’t respond, not even to that, the chiefs and their sons must have decided we were pure illusion. They vacated the yard, and the palms kept on growing us in.


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Another Chapter: On the Moral Influence of Luelen Bernart as told to His Wife, Klara, and their Children: Wililinter, Mihpel, Sahrinha

… or you build a road so functional they make you chief.


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Another Chapter: Two Ways of Surviving Typhoon

How the diviners know: They say their bellies, but mean their minds. Master of the Oven was the first of many diviners on Pohnpei. He saw the typhoon in a dream.

When the rain came, he loaded his family into a giant bowl, which skirred along the Tauak Passage. The wind shears and storm surges rocked the bowl, and for most of three days, Master of the Oven sat at the kick-wheel of his lathe, molding threads of clay to patch the fissures on the curious vessel. They used a rope of 100 spans to anchor at the edges of the basin.

Nearly all who lived on the coasts of Pohnpei perished in the typhoon. At least fifteen outriggers failed to outrace the storm. The People of the Canoe (i.e., the Founders’ line) had more of a right to live than the others, so they kept Mount Nahnalaud for themselves. When villagers from the Palikir foothills approached the peak, the chiefs’ sons turned them away. By the second day, mudslides had eroded the slopes of the mountain, and no one else could make the climb. Everyone below Nahnalaud was drowned. Parrotfinches and starlings reeled in the sky. The women collected fallen bananas and stripped tubers from the turf. As the water rose, the chiefs’ sons perched on the bluffs of Nahnalaud and fished. One of the sons harpooned a passing mass, and discovered it was his old neighbor. He dragged it by the ankles to the fire.

Typhoon relented just short of their camp. Over the days, the water receded, and the People of the Canoe followed it downward. With each meter, they watched Pohnpei’s bare and deformed landscape returning. The few trees that weren’t uprooted crooked toward the earth. From this timber, they rebuilt the structures as they remembered them.

Master of the Oven returned to Pohnpei too, letting the waves carry his bowl to the breakers. At the right time, he flipped the bowl, and his family spilled out. The chiefs were still reluctant to acknowledge his divining abilities.

Within a few years, Pohnpei accreted again. Pohnpeians sowed palm seeds and staked cane stalks in ruts of loam. The new growth attracted outsiders from Yap, Chuuk, Kosrae, and beyond.

On lonely nights after the typhoon, the old chiefs scanned the firmament longingly and begged Master of the Oven to name the nameless stars after them. They always forgot how to retrace the sky, though — from zenith to their personal astral cache — and so Master of the Oven spent his last days pointing dumbly to smudges of gas, saying, “There” and “There” and “There, there.”


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Another Chapter: & One Way to Die

Likop was mostly known for his carapace tattoo, which covered his entire back. When he drowned, it looked like the most natural thing in the world: a turtle diving sweetly in.

After him, the chiefs all made a habit out of dying. And the villagers made false claims to the Founders’ line. Within a few centuries, everyone on Pohnpei seemed to have the face shape of Japkini. And everyone was tweezing out a splinter from the original Canoe.


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Another Chapter: Luelen, who has been singing his whole life, runs out of throat.

Why are they claiming falsely / a canoe from abroad, eh? / They did not construct / the sacred canoe, eh. / … / ‘For how many [people] is the royal vessel / descending hither?’ eh. / ‘It was Janmo and Nanmo / of whom I hear. / It was only their people / of whom I tell. / … / Leaped on to the heavenly vessel, / ascended with it. / ‘You two have [thereby] obtained / a choice country; / You two have obtained / a choice country. / This is my lie / which I am making. / I shall cease from / telling this story, eh. / Let them talk instead, / I in turn will listen. / We used to weep over / this era, eh, / But I have stopped joining in / swaggering. / Ponape is improved / all around, yes. (6)


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Chapter 1: The Abrogation of ‘The Story of the Discovery of Ponape by Canoe’

It no longer has a name. Roofs catapult from their dwellings. There is no rootstock, wild yam, swamp taro du jour. Ocean spray spouts down the riven rock. Those who live beneath it withdraw. The earth puckers like a sphincter, hording its vines and its tubers. Limuetu’s children grow young, younger until back at the gate of the womb. The population dwindles to just a few, now just the founders. By fist and trowel, they return the earth, filling up their canoes. Ponape, meaning ‘On the Stone Structure,’ is deconstructed now into piece’s parts. The stones, once summoned, all scatter. The first mangrove seed is a hoax. Coral is submerged by wavelet’s crest. The octopus turns taciturn. The sail sags. The canoe stays stationary. Anchored in silt, they voyage nowhere. In fact, the canoe has yet to be hollowed. No one weaves sails from the fibers of banana bark. No designs are hewn. The Woman of Much Rain is not aboard. The Woman of Unclear Weather stays away. The Woman Turning Over sleeps in. When Japkini has the notion to go looking for Heaven’s Eaves, his comrades simply laugh it off. They laugh in a supernatural frequency that mineralizes the Founder. Who will be teaching a stone to turn over other stones? Your search returned 0 results.

  1. 1. Yet Luelen has given us what is unmistakably a history: a chronicle of events located in time; albeit one based on oral tradition and employing a sequential and genealogical progression in place of our standard chronological system … he has selected and arranged his sources into a coherent and consistent narrative, appropriate in terms of Ponapean culture, which tells us, through his selectivity and interpretation, what an islander, rather than a European, considers of historical significance. (x)


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