Pat Matsueda



I will be reading a short poem and a section of a long work of fiction. The poem, “Spiders,” was written for a male friend who had a violent and abusive father. He shared some of his experiences with me, and I wrote the poem in sympathy and comradeship.

The fictional piece is from a book, The Devil We Know, about a man in his late fifties whose life changes dramatically as a result of three events: the investigation of a crime he is suspected of committing; mandatory counseling by a female therapist; and the return and rehabilitation of his oldest child. I’m going to read from a section that was recently published in Eleven Eleven, the literary journal of the California College of the Arts.

Ted had gotten off from his second job a few hours before and stopped at the supermarket on the way home. He unlocked the door and walked to the kitchen table, slipping the army-surplus backpack onto the table. He removed his silver helmet and black gloves and unzipped the backpack, taking out two bags of groceries. Then he sat down and looked at his phone again. Whoever had called had left a message.

“Dad, I’m in trouble. I need your help. I’m at a gas station by a school…Kawananakoa. Please…help me…”

He jumped up, grabbed his helmet and gloves, and rushed out, slamming the door and running up the steps. “Les, you know where Kawananakoa School is?”

“Yeah, da intermediate school by da kine…Liliha Bakery. You know, Nuuanu side. Eh, Ted, someting wrong? You look mad.”

“I need to go help my daughter. I’ll be back soon.” Ted tried to keep his voice under control.

“She in trouble?”

“Cannot tell, but no worry. I got it covered.”

Ted got on the [motorcycle], strapping his helmet on and pulling down the visor. He drove down Waialae Avenue, taking care not to speed, though adrenalin was coursing through his body down to the foot pegs. He turned right by the public storage place, staying in the right-hand lane, then headed west on H1.

The off-ramp for Vineyard Boulevard appeared several minutes later, and he took the exit. Policemen sometimes stationed themselves at the bottom of the hill, so he slowed to thirty. He drove straight down Vineyard, then turned up Nuuanu. There was a 7-Eleven a few blocks down the road. He slowed as he passed, just in case Gwen was there. Not seeing her, he continued, driving past the school. Across the street from it was a Chevron station. He saw someone sitting, hunched over, at the edge of the station. Branches from a large tree hung over her.

“Gwen…Gwen!” he said, bringing the bike to a stop alongside her.

She didn’t look up. He quickly removed his helmet and gloves and set them on the bike seat, then kneeled in front of her and put his hand under her chin to raise her head. Her skin was cold to the touch, and her eyes were closed. He gently lifted the lids. Her eyes were glazed over. Her face and clothes were filthy, and she smelled of urine.

He stood up, got out his phone, and called information, asking for the number of a taxi company. “Yeah, can you send a cab right away to the Chevron station across from Kawananakoa Intermediate on Nuuanu? Yeah, thanks.”

He slipped the phone back in his pocket and kneeled again. “Gwen…Gwen…I’ve called a taxi. I’m taking you home with me.” She didn’t respond.

Shortly afterward, a white Chrysler minivan pulled into the station, and Ted walked over to it. “I want you to take this young woman to Sierra Drive in Kaimuki.” The cab driver got out slowly and looked at Gwen.

He seemed worried. “I don’t know. Maybe she should go to the hospital? Kuakini right over there,” he said, pointing with his left hand.

“No!” Ted said, surprising himself by raising his voice. “I mean no, please do as I asked. Let’s get her into your car.”

“She smells bad, and she’s dirty.”

“Yeah. Here,” Ted said, handing the driver his jacket, “put this on your seat.”

“You sure?” Ted nodded. The driver walked back to the car.

Ted bent down and put his hands under Gwen’s arms, lifting her up. Then he put one arm around her waist and half-walked, half-carried her to the cab. The driver held the door open as Ted lifted her onto the seat.

“I’ll meet you guys there. Wait for me if you get there first. Got that?”

The driver looked even more worried. Ted finally realized why.

“It’s OK,” he said. “I’m her dad.”

I feel that when we write about men—and when men try to tell the stories of women—these are important events and we are called to witness. We attest to the veracity of the stories, the truthfulness of the characterizations, the significance of the meanings.


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