friday feast: it’s the quiet ones you have to watch

Watercolor by Frank Ducote.

Still waters run deep.

Consider the small, quiet town of Hanapepe (hah-nah-PEH-peh), on the island of Kaua’i, which is the northernmost and oldest of Hawai’i’s eight main islands. I had never been there, until I read this poem:

by Geraldine Heng

january does not awaken this town.
this skin of stillness has lain quiet now
for gentle lifetimes.

the houses, like colored wooden make-believe
sit perennially charming in picture frames,
in the metal reflection of a family car.

sunlight, teeming with dusty life
warms the storefronts, yellowly.

in shadowy interiors, proprietors measure
condiments and words, their greeting a secret meeting

shy as deep water, the memories of this town,
dimly glimpsed in the glass jars.

and a modest dance studio waits down the road
now serene, once eager perhaps
with impatient feet quick for the new steps

perhaps the doctor in the clinic danced them.

perhaps once the two old friends
dreaming gently over ice-shop counter

waxed companionable moustaches
in steamy barbershop mirror,
while their wives, tired by children, softly complained.

holiday visitors come this warm afternoon
in bright voices, chasing weekend lives
they leave the sound of feet on bare boards.

in the evening the young gathered at jukebox and pool tables.
the movie house plays a lone feature.

soon, february passes unnoticed by the soda fountains.

from Island Fire: An Anthology of Literature from Hawai’i, edited by Cheryl A. and James R. Harstad (University of Hawai’i Press, 2002).

It’s fun to wander small, quiet towns and imagine what might have happened there at one time. This sign, proclaiming Hanapepe as “Kauai’s Biggest Little Town,” made me very curious.

I did a little investigating and discovered that Hanapepe (“crushed bay”), back in the day, was quite a place. It was founded by some Chinese rice farmers in the late 19th century, and was the only non-plantation town in the area. It once housed opium dens and was known for its rowdy bars and brawls. There was even a massacre here in 1924, where the police shot and killed 17 Filipino sugar cane workers who were on strike. And do you remember “The Thorn Birds,” with Richard Chamberlain? Some of it was shot here, and scenes from “Jurassic Park” were shot in the surrounding valley. Who knew?

In 1992, Hanapepe was decimated by Hurricane Iniki. But this little town has come back. Its rich past, charm, and quirkiness still lures the curious, and creative souls have found a haven here.


Talk Story is the western-most bookstore in the U.S.

Today, main street houses a few art galleries, gift shops, eateries, and the coolest bookstore/cafe evah — Talk Story, which is a friendly gathering place, and the home of 1500 used, new, rare and collectible titles. Every Friday night, it’s Indian food and live music. You can even buy locally-made gifts and jewelry, Hawaiian records, or take slack key guitar or ukulele lessons there.

Isn’t it cool that despite everything this little town has been through, “the printed word” still thrives? English was first heard in the Hawaiian Islands when Captain Cook stepped ashore on Kaua’i in 1778. I love that if you travel just about as far west as you can in the populated U.S., you’ll find an indie bookstore there!


You know, it is Friday. I was thinking — why don’t we all zip on over to this funky spot, and hang out tonight? They’ve got art, music, books, and food. Who could ask for more?

In case you’re thirsty:

The poetry goddess hosting today is the lovely Karen Edmisten. Cruise on over for the roundup. She’s got coffee!

Master Poetry Friday schedule is at Big A little a.


*Thanks to Ed and Cynthia of Talk Story for permission to post photos of their bookstore!

Edited 1-17-09: A couple of corrections to this post — Talk Story doesn’t have 1500 titles, but over 15,000!! Wow! And while they are no longer a cafe, they still have live music (yay)! They ship worldwide; check out their Amazon storefront here.

36 thoughts on “friday feast: it’s the quiet ones you have to watch

  1. Poetry Friday

    Elaine M.

    Love your post–the poem, the pictures, the history. That looks like a wonderful bookstore.

    I enjoy driving through areas in northern New England and seeing the small towns that make it seem as if time has stood still there.


  2. Lucky you to have been to Kaua’i. I’ve been to the Big Island and Maui besides Oahu, where I grew up, but never Kaua’i. Maybe this year? Another mai tai will REALLY calm you down. 🙂


  3. Hi Jama,
    Thanks for the lovely poem, the history lesson, the desk-chair travel, AND the mai-tai! Now thinking warm thoughts (it’s working–we’ve warmed up from -20 to -4 F here in N. Illinois)!


  4. Hanapepe

    Hi Sis, Shucks! When we were on Kauai last November, we passed the turn off for Hanapepe on our way to hike Waimea Canyon. I wanted to stop, but our group of 15 was focused on the hike! Thanks for the tour. By the way, the Talk Story bookstore reminded me of one of the things about the contemporary Hawaiian culture that I love. We still ” talk story”, that wonderful oral tradition that is a great vehicle for passing on those ephemeral things in a culture that may not be expressed in concrete artifacts such as tools, works of art, clothing etc. I would love it if you delved a little further into this. Love, Syl


  5. TadMack says: : )

    What a lovely poem.
    The Hawai’i’ans are such a resilient people — possibly made stronger because of the many cultures contained in the one country. Thanks for the virtual visit to Kauai.


  6. Re: Hanapepe

    I’ve thought of talk story — even wrote a prose poem about it once. Hard to explain for those who haven’t experienced it first hand. Like food, talk story is an institution in Hawai’i. Its vehicle? Pidgin — which I blogged about yesterday. Guess you’ll have to return to Kaua’i to see Hanapepe!


  7. Re: TadMack says: : )

    Happy New Year, Tanita! You’re right about resiliency. Moreover, the welcoming spirit of Aloha still extended to visitors no matter where they come from, regardless of what happened in the past.


  8. Re: Hanapepe

    Prose poem? My ears have perked up. Talk Story sounds like a perfect picture book title.

    I’ve been to Kaua-i and would love to go back. The lovely poem will have to do in the meantime.


  9. Sounds lovely; Kauai is my favorite island. 😀

    I’ve always associated Hanapepe with Lappert’s ice cream – I believe that’s where they got started. Mmmmmmmm.


  10. I am closing my eyes and pretending I am in a warm place with green grass and flowering trees…and did I mention WARMTH?

    Ahh…thanks for the mini vacation in my mind. I needed to escape Ohio’s coldcoldcold sub-zero temps!


  11. Re: Hanapepe

    I thought it would make a good picture book, too. The national publishers I tried felt that the subject would only have regional interest. Will interest in Hawaii books increase because our new President is from there? Remains to be seen *crossing fingers*.


  12. Thank you for taking me to Hanapepe, Jama! Talk Story sounds like a great bookstore – it certainly has the best bookstore name!

    Into the Wardrobe

    P.S. 17 Filipino sugar cane workers were killed? :o(


  13. What an interesting poem–I especially liked:

    holiday visitors come this warm afternoon
    in bright voices, chasing weekend lives
    they leave the sound of feet on bare boards.

    That’s the kind of traveler I’m tired of being. Not that we can afford weekend travel…but more and more, I find myself leaning toward the kind of travel where you swap houses for 2 weeks and live–really live–somewhere new for a bit. Not just seeing the sights.

    Thanks, Jama!


    I had completely forgotten writing this poem. It’s decades old now, though someone seems to have anthologized it just 7 years ago. Your pictures show Hanapepe to be much more modern than I remember it.
    Thank you so much for your wonderful post, the beautiful pictures, and for the memories. You made my day.
    Geraldine Heng


    What a thrill to have you stop by, Geraldine! Wow! Your lovely poem enabled me to learn more about Hanapepe. Though I was born and raised in Hawai’i, I’ve never been to Kaua’i. Your poem helped me picture it as it once was. Thanks for your comment :).


Comments are closed.