Three poems by Hali Sofala

Fa'a Samoa

Four o’clock creeps in slowly,
riding in on waves of heated air
that shoot up hills and deliver time
to Vailele on the ocean’s veranda.

In the village, the young men play cricket
or rugby as elders watch—longing to play
one more time, but shuffle feet instead—
their cleats pressed idly in soft, Samoan soil.

Volley balls bounce into fields of play, tanned
children dodge the older boys who chase rugby balls
and rugby dreams to black tar lines painted in the grass.

Through the air slices the sound of a steady breath
blown through a conch shell sending the deep thrum
across time—shaking us from waking dreams,
bidding us home.

Every house is sacred.  Prayers float
instinctively up—past geckos that crawl
on the ceiling and past the palms that curve

over the red tin roof.  Grandmother sings
out of key and out of tune, Fa’avae I Le Atua Samoa
eight o’clock leaves us with tomorrow—

a promise in the water—
as fleeting as floating seaweed—
as constant as the coral reef—
as momentary as the breaking wave.

In the House of My Fathers

My grandfather whispered words in my ear
that I did not understand.  They were words
of his land, Samoa.  I had traveled to this place
so that my grandfather could see me live
outside of a picture frame.  His thin stick fingers
felt my face and found a burrow in the hair
I hated:  too wiry, too frizzy, too Samoan.
His skin sagged on his bones as if he wore
another mans russet colored coat by mistake.
Strong shoulders rounded like worn away mountains
into arms that hung like two dead fish
for sale on the roadside.  I looked away
to the pink bougainvillea that crept into the open
windows.  Lagi, he spoke my name in a thirsty
croak.  I looked, for the first time, at his face—
at his eyes—they shimmered like sunlight
off the Pacific.  They told me the body
was no marker for the soul.


there are stories that are sacred.
we hold them as a new mother holds her child—
supporting their necks in the crook of
our arm.  cooing in their faces.

there are memories that are sacred.
they reserve space in our mind.  memories
that we water like budding trees—pushing
other thoughts aside to let them grow.

the first moment I see my grandfather I bend
down to hug him because he is possessed
by spirits that lock his legs and pour cement on his feet.

he can barely lift his arm and I feel the dead
weight flung around my neck.  I search
for the man of legend—the warrior of my father’s stories.
I am unsure how to love him.

this is a sacred story.

at home I smile and show the gifts of my trip—
a few leis, a dozen smuggled pieces of coral, a blue starfish.
I show my family how to dance in Samoan—
swaying my hips like the coconut palms—
stepping lightly as if I dance on light bulbs.

months later I sit—alone—and remember my grandfather—
his skeletal form—his drooping eyes—I sob
because I forgot to tell him I love him—
or because I did not know how—in his tongue or mine.

this is a sacred story.

I write down a line
that turns into two
and then three

scrawled across a page he will never see & I find my tongue.

About the author

Hali Sofala is currently teaching and working on her thesis at the University of Wisconsin, Madison where she pursues an MFA in English/Creative Writing.…

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