Waterwings, Cathy Song

We’re on vacation this week in Kauai. We don’t take vacations very often because we live so far from family that we spend most of our travel time and budget visiting the people we love, but this is one of our favorite places to return to. My husband and I have been coming for years now, and every time, I’m struck by the island’s stillness set in a vast sea, by the pride of the people in their state, in the protective sense of community that extends to inhabitants and land alike.

I wanted to share this beloved poem by Cathy Song, a wonderful Hawaiian poet, to commemorate our first day of “rest” (as different as that may look seven months pregnant with a toddler in tow). Every time we come here, I find new stories that could only be told in or about Hawaii, but this piece I love because it feels both of its place and universal.


The mornings are his,
blue and white
like the tablecloth at breakfast.
He’s happy in the house,
a sweep of the spoon
brings the birds under his chair.
He sings and the dishes disappear.

Or holding a crayon like a candle,
he draws a circle.
It is his hundredth dragonfly.
Calling for more paper,
this one is red-winged
and like the others,
he wills it to fly, simply
by the unformed curve of his signature.

Waterwings he calls them,
the floats I strap to his arms.
I wear an apron of concern,
sweep the morning of birds.
To the water he returns,
plunging where it’s cold,
moving and squealing into sunlight.
The water from here seems flecked with gold.

I watch the circles
his small body makes
fan and ripple,
disperse like an echo
into the sum of water, light and air.
His imprint on the water
has but a brief lifespan,
the flicker of a dragonfly’s delicate wing.

This is sadness, I tell myself,
the morning he chooses to leave his wings behind,
because he will not remember
that he and beauty were aligned,
skimming across the water, nearly airborne,
on his first solo flight.
I’ll write “how he could not
contain his delight.”
At the other end,
in another time frame,
he waits for me—
having already outdistanced this body,
the one that slipped from me like a fish,
floating, free of itself.

4 thoughts on “Waterwings, Cathy Song

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