Ancestral Graves, Kahuku Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Ancestral Graves, Kahuku” is a deeply personal poem of Garrett Hongo that emphasizes tragic aspects of his original Japanese American community in Hawaii. The poem begins as the persona drives to the cemetery of his ancestors on Hawaii. He is accompanied by an unidentified guest, who may be the wife of the author who joined Hongo on his first return to Hawaii when he was in his thirties, or a close friend, or a poetic stand-in for the reader. The path toward the cemetery leads to images of decay, such as a rusting sugar mill, a derelict gas station, a ghost town, and an abandoned golf course. Nature is reclaiming human artifacts including, in a hint at the violence revealed at the poem’s end, houses once guarded with shotguns.

Once the two people enter the graveside past three wrecked cars, Hongo describes the remnants of this Japanese American Buddhist cemetery. The persona guides his guest as he was guided once as a boy by his aunt. Now, the graves are no longer tended to; there are no more offerings of food and incense to the dead, as is Buddhist custom. Nature itself has contributed to the disturbance of the dead. In 1946, a tsunami destroyed more than half of the graves, washing their content out onto the beach. As Hongo told an audience in Los Angeles in 1992, indigenous Hawaiians knew not to bury their dead by the sea. Yet the white owners of the land allocated only this most useless, infertile area right by the sea to their Japanese...

(The entire section is 457 words.)

Ancestral Graves, Kahuku Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Gunew, Sneja. “Gendered Reading Tactics: Public Intellectuals and Community in Diaspora.” Resources for Feminist Research 29, nos. 3/4 (Fall/Winter, 2001): 57-73.

Hongo, Garrett. “A Vicious Kind of Tenderness: An Interview with Garrett Hongo.” Interview by Alice Evans. Poets and Writers 20, no. 5 (September/October, 1992): 36-46.

Ikeda, Stewart David. “The Open Boat: Poems from Asian America.” Ploughshares 20, no. 1 (Spring, 1994): 202-205.

Jarman, Mark. Review of Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai’i, by Garrett Hongo. The Southern Review 32, no. 2 (Spring, 1996): 337-344.

Monaghan, Peter. “How a Small, Nondescript Writing Program Achieved Distinction.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 44, no. 33 (April 24, 1998): A13-A15.

Muratori, Fred. Review of The River of Heaven, by Garrett Hongo. Library Journal 113 (May 1, 1988): 81-82.

Pettingell, Phoebe. “The River of Heaven.” The New Leader 71, no. 10 (June 13, 1988): 16.

Schultz, Robert. “Passionate Virtuosity.” Hudson Review 42 (Spring, 1992): 149-157.

Slowik, Mary. “Beyond Lot’s Wife: The Immigration Poems of Marilyn Chin, Garrett Hongo, Li-Young Lee, and David Mura.” MELUS 25, nos. 3/4 (Fall/Winter, 2000): 221-242.

Yu, Larry. “Under Western Eyes: Personal Essays from Asian America.” Amerasia Journal 22, no. 3 (Winter, 1996): 169-172.