Behold the Many

A Novel

Lois-Ann Yamanaka

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Behold the Many
Kalihi Valley
1939
The valley is a woman lying on her back, legs spread wide, her geography wet by a constant rain. Waterfalls wash the days and nights of winter storms into the river that empties into the froth of the sea.
In the valley, the rain is a gossamer cloth, a tempest of water and leaves. The rain is southerly with strange foreboding. The rain is northerly with cool rime.
The rain glistens on maiden fern, the wind rustling the laua'e, the palapalai touching her there where it is always wet and seamy.
The valley is a woman with the features of a face, a woman whose eyes watch the procession of the celestial sphere; a woman with woodland arms outstretched and vulnerable, a woman with shadowy breasts of 'a'ali'i and hpu'u, lobelias and lichens; a woman, a womb, impregnated earth.
O body.
When they find her, she is shiny, she is naked, she is bound, but for her legs, spread open and wet with blood and semen. Tears in hereyes, or is it rain? Breath in her mouth, or is it wind? Her thicket of hair drips into her mouth, sliced open from from ear to ear. She is pale green, the silvery underside of kukui leaves; her eyes and lips are gray, the ashen hinahina; her fingers and feet are white, the winter rain in this valley.
O body.
O beloved Hosana.
 
 
 
ANAH KNOWS her daughter is dead at the very moment of her passing. She is sitting early dawn in the honey house, surrounded by the hum of the wild swarms outside. Then the dead of a strange silence. Light enters the room in a strand that illuminates the particles of dust, the luminescence of bees' wings. Hosana enters the room in a flowing orange dress. She stops where the sunlight stills.
"Hosana?" Her daughter has been gone for weeks. Gone at fourteen with a man who called her beautiful. Gone to the other side of the island of O'ahu.
"Remember always, Mother," Hosana says without moving her lips, "love is sweet."
Honeybees move in the thick smell of the honey house.
She follows her daughter's slow gaze around the room as if placing the honey bins, the amber-filled bottles, the broken smoker, the dust of kiawe pollen, wooden frames, the scent of nectar, and finally her mother's face in her memory.
When the light fades, so does she. And then comes the wailing rain from a cloudless sky. Days of rain.
1916
The valley is a woman crying, a child's lonely wailing. Nothing but the river moaning down the mountain.
The valley is a woman's breath, a child's whisper. Nothing but the language of wind in trees.
In this valley, Anah's little sister died. On the night of her death, Anah walked down the steep staircases of the orphanage, Aki behind her holding on to the back of her nightdress. It was dark beyond midnight; the nuns were asleep in their small cells on the second floor. Anah stole a bottle of honey and a cube of honeycomb from the kitchen.
No one knew that Leah had died but Anah and Aki who sat beside her bed as she choked on sputum and blood. Her labored breaths grazed her throat, then crackled with hollow relief in her tiny chest.
"Okaasan coming tomorrow," Anah told her. Don't die. "And Charles, Charles too. He coming. Don't die, don't die. You have to be well so they can take us home for Easter dinner."
"Liar," Aki whispered. She looked away from Leah. "They never coming back for us."
Leah turned her face to the porcelain bowl with blue flowers on the bed stand beside her. She heaved thick strands of blood from the side of her mouth, missing the bowl. "He coming," she said.
"Yes, I promise," Anah told her, gently taking her hand.
"Who?" Aki asked. "Who coming?"
"No, Dai, no!" Leah rasped, her eyes fixed on the ceiling. "Dai, no!"
She died that night, that moment with her eyes open, horrified and stunned.
When little Leah died, Anah stole a bottle of honey from the kitchen, poured it on her face, a glaze over her sleeping eyes. You're sleeping, that's all. She poured it over her hair, brushed it to a glossy shine. Never mind Sister Bernadine cut off your beautiful hair. She rubbed the cube of honeycomb over her bloody lips, then placed it in her warm mouth. In remembrance of me.
Anah took her tiny right hand, Aki her left, and they bit off her fingernails.Anah cut off a thick strand of her hair with a kitchen knife. She placed these relics in the empty honey bottle filled with Leah's baby teeth and hid it in one of the dark closets on the third floor.
Then hand in hand, they waited for morning.
1939
Ezroh finds his beloved Anah sitting in the honey house. He is holding their daughter's hand.
"Get out, quick, the bees swarming!"
Their child in a young woman's body, sings a child's song:
Sweet dreams for thee, sweet dreams for thee.
Anah sits in the midst of this odd, mad swarm, the certain pitch and hum at their untimely displacement.
"Why you naked?" he yells, waving his arms at the furious swarm.
There's not a comb of honeybee,
so full of sweets as babe to me.
He tries to pull her shirt over her head, then urges her to run. Their woman-child laughs at bees crawling on her hands, her father brushing them away from her face. He pulls her away from the honey house.
And it is o! sweet, sweet!
Anah sits in the blur of the old hive, stares at the green stinger barbs writhing in her hands, face, breasts, belly, thighs, and feet. And when she is fully pierced, she walks out of the honey house, the swarm emitting a high pitch behind her.
 
 
 
O BODY.
 
 
 
SHE PLACES the corpse of her firstborn, her beloved Hosana, on a long table covered with her best lace tablecloth in the parlor. Watch,O Lord. She lights beeswax candles blessed by Father Maurice. Those who weep tonight. She folds her daughter's hands on her breast with the knotted sennit rosary. Bless your dead ones.
A snail slides across the threshold.
The woman-child sings:
Worm, nor snail, do no offense.
A rice sparrow hits the window.
The woman-child sings:
What nestlings do in the nightly dew?
An owl cries from the ironwood trees.
The woman-child sings:
Night is come. Owls are out.
She covers her daughter with foliage from the Ko'olau Mountains: woodland arms of kukui; breasts of 'a'ali'i and hpu'u; hair of hinahina and lichens; body of palapalai and laua'e. She rains holy water on Hosana's body. And then she anoints her daughter with royal jelly, brushing honey into her beautiful long hair. She kneels before her daughter, then prays for her soul all night.
O beloved Hosana.
When Father Maurice and Sister Mary Deborah arrive in the morning, she is holding her daughter's cold hand. She kisses her face in this house one last time.
Glory be to the Father. The horse-drawn buggy pulls away.
To the Son. The church bells echo.
And to the Holy Spirit. She follows the body deeper into the valley.
As was in the beginning. The valley is a woman lying on her back.
Is now and ever shall be. The rain is a gossamer cloth.
World without end. Her many dead ones surround her.
Amen. A vincible God resides in this valley.
Someone is praying. The prayers do not end:
"Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, my life and my hope, to youI do cry, poor banished child of Eve; to you do I send up my sighs, mourning, and weeping in this valley of tears.
"Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, my life and my hope, to you I do cry to ask the Father on my behalf:
"Tell me how, O Lord," Anah cries, "how have I so offended thee?"
Copyright © 2006 by Lois-Ann Yamanaka