The Ditch Kids of the Maui Sugar Company

Derek Otsuji

Barred from swimming pools the hot summer long
but loving the delicious cold on our skins,
we dove in ditches dug to irrigate
the same fields where our fathers slogged, under
the supervising eye of a white sun winking
on the blades of their machetes. Of course
there were barbed fences to keep us from ditches,
just as there were codes that banned us from pools
sealed behind an elite sports club’s gleaming
walls, a taboo, like a shiny thing, asking
to be smashed.                           Released from sluice gates,
the sloshing water, brown as our arms,
ran down the channels, as we dipped and stroked,
like salmon driven upstream, the russeting
current sliding off flexed shoulder blades
in silted robes as we reached speeds that broke
all barriers and in our homegrown upstart way,
always the outside chance, the dark horse’s surge,
we sugar ditch kids, turning laps like verses
of an olympian ode, plowed that narrow lane
to victory and were crowned aquatic kings.

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Derek Otsuji lives and writes between the Ko’olau Mountains and Kewalo Harbor, on the southern shore of Oahu. He wishes to acknowledge Julie Checkoway’s superb book The Three-Year Swim Club for some of the historical details in his poem about Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids.

The Threepenny Review

Summer 2018

Berkeley, California

Editor and Publisher
Wendy Lesser

Deputy Editor
D. Wystan Owen

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