Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Pe’a by Julie Dolcemaschio

The worker tosses the remains

into a vat, thoughts drift to

the driving rain and the walk home

The vat churns carcass, bone, skin and scale

into a compost fit for the strays that

line the road, while the meaty parts

make way into cans bound for the mainland

The fa’afafine (fah-fah fee-nay)

wait in the shadows as the worker

passes, bound for home, the rainsluiced divots

along the sheer cliffs, fern covered, channel

the Samoan deluge onto the pockmarked road

Colorful busses pass through the village as a quiet sea

churns unhurried, a turquoise cocoon for the pink coral

that sleeps underneath

On both sides of the road the trees sway, and an old

loosened coconut drops with a hollow thud

And the mangoes not yet yellowed and ripe

hang hard and green above the worker’s head

The river of water passes him with little notice

as he climbs the steep hill to his home

The windows, covered in worn and faded

lavalava blow inward away from the breeze

off the harbor

Alone, the worker peels the day from a worn

body, the rotten sea and blood and dried scales

shed like old skin and, home now and dry,

he stands before the mirror

and remembers

the boy who helped build a village

the teen who cleared debris from

the road after the hurricane in ‘03

the young man who heard the call

and for twelve days took to the mat

as the tafuga tapped ink into skin

using the bone of a boar

the shell of a turtle, and a hammer

The design, like angels wings

begin at the lower back

and end at the belly button

The great lattice work and symmetrical lines

crossing buttocks and rounding to the groin

Then the brutal inking down the thighs

Tap tap tap to below the knees,

coloring his legs like pants he will never remove again

The young American girl he met

in a dark bar in those young unhurried years

and courted the old fashioned way

wept on their wedding night

at first sight of his pe’a, believing

the tatu ended at his waist

seeing it only above his colorful lavalava

when he went without a shirt

Legs and buttocks covered in the ink of ages

Still toned, still sculpted, honoring the

pain and blood and sweat shed

for the honor of the pe’a

And his blond girl-bride still weeps

at his faith and his bravery

His pe’a a dark shadow against

Coffee skin in darkness

And a bright beacon in the light of day

The young girl waits and loves

and yearns, but she does not understand

the way of a Samoan man, whose dreams

did not include canned tuna and slave wages

The son of a village chief turns to the

smiling girl who awaits him

Bright and nude and unsoiled in his bed

In his best dreams he saw her, just this way

The moon on her hair, shining on her skin

and he believes that tomorrow will come again

And then again with just a smile

Only her smile

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