Only the Water

An uakoko, a low-lying rainbow that clings to the ʻāina, over Lahaina. Throughout the Pacific, ānuenue (rainbows) are welcomed as signs from the ancestors, signs of the presence of great mana, and as bridges to Pō or other realms. Uakoko is also used as a term to describe a rainfall so heavy that the streams run reddish-brown with the ʻalae dirt from the hillsides. Aloha ʻia e Lahaina, aloha nō. Courtesy of Jim Sorbie/ Flickr (CC BY 2.0).


 for the stolen water, lands, and lives of Hawaiʻi, and especially those of Lahaina


to divert, to steal, to hoard,
to pollute, to contaminate

to leak fuel   into
to seep forever
chemicals    into

to fill
freshwater springs
with concrete


how you end
the underground    artery end
stream flow end    estuary end
nursery end       drink end
free end      sacred end
muliwai end    sweet end
breath     end


only the water
for forty thousand
kalo       iʻa       manu
limu      moʻo       hua
laʻau       kumu      kānaka


only for forty
thousands and thousands
to thirst
for this




na mākou ka wai:
you could         retch
on your toxic
crops            choke
on your war
chemicals          drown
in your concrete


       and we
           would still
                 thirst for


Editor’s note: Zócalo originally intended to run “Only the Water” by Hawaiʻi Poet Laureate and professor Brandy Nālani McDougall in October, as part of guest curator Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s month of poetry. Because of the recent Maui fires, we have decided to publish it early.

McDougall tells Zocalo that she wrote this poem after researching colonial water diversion and receiving the public notice of contamination of Oʻahu’s water by the U.S. military, but also sees “water theft and diversion (and the resulting dryness of the land) as key to the voracity with which the wildfires ran through Lahaina” as well. A Native Hawaiian whose ʻāina hānau, or birth land, is Kula, Maui, McDougall writes that her poem speaks directly to “plantation disaster capitalism”—corporate efforts to profit from the climate crisis. For more about water and water rights in Lahaina, and how water theft contributed to the devastation of Lahaina with the wildfires, McDougall recommends this article in the Guardian.

Brandy Nālani McDougall (Kanaka ʻŌiwi) is the author of two poetry collections, The Salt-Wind, Ka Makani Paʻakai (2008) and Āina Hānau, Birth Land (2023). From the ahupuaʻa of Aʻapueo, Maui, she is the Hawaiʻi Poet Laureate for 2023-2025. She lives with her ʻohana in the Waikīkī ahupuaʻa on Oʻahu.

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