Sugar Goes Down

Kalani Padilla


The lychee is fresh off the branch. My dad and I tear away their dragon-egg rinds with our teeth and pile them in the truckbed. Sugar cane, too – raw in a Ziploc bag, stalks cut small and bound back together in green rubber bands. My dad laughs gently when I attempt to swallow the tough fibers after the sweet has gone down.


Playing in the honeysuckle bushes, in the clavicles of Mililani, is not “like” growing up between rows of cane, I decide – many many many drafts later.


On the South Hill of Spokane, I misinterpret the shape of a mango. I know because the knife crunches and stops in the pit. I adjust the blade, but the blade adjusts back, and I blame diaspora. Brown on the outside. White on the inside. The coconut has to drift far before it ever finds roots.


When I graduated college, it was on a Spokane street called Waikiki. For the Call To Worship of the Baccalaureate service I led the hymn, How Great Thou Art inʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi.


I saw my ancestors in the stands. I saw the overalls and the straw hats they do not wear for fashion. Do their eyes of cane see as I see? An educated turf enclosed in spongy red running track. No serrated-edge sugarcane leaves to mangle my black robes or my polished conscience. I went down the stage to the march of my own name.


Grandpa was a flagman for the cane trucks in the fields back there, my father says, gesturing into the previous century. Except he didn’t have a flag; he just waved a cane knife as the trucks wobbled in. Later I look up Kaua’i cane knife. The engine slips Sakada in between. The word feels bad on my tongue with English sitting so close to it.


To be this kind of descendant sometimes feels like looking back and realizing I was hypnotized into ascension instead.


I’m in the Uka backyard – young and just short of knowing all of this. I take my cousin by the elbow, Ariel come watch, and I cut a Dole pineapple at the kitchen sink. A geode, the goddamn sun. The sugar goes down.

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