Melissa Llanes Brownlee

Stifling the Weeds

We lay recycled cardboard on the dirt of our little plots of land, a cheap way to block weeds from growing, organic, if the cardboard doesn’t have anything poisonous hidden in its folds, ready to kill the life we are growing. We argue over dry taro, ulu, sweet potatoes. Our need for fresh produce of our own, a constant, fighting worms, snails, blights, diseases, brought from foreign lands. We till the dirt, red and fertile from ancient lava flows. We discuss growing wet taro for poi but we know that will take more water than we can afford, rain caught and stored, not enough to flood even one crop. We gnaw fingernails and broken skin, our anxiety at surviving on our homeland, our ʻāina, a struggle. We share our ebts to gather groceries and necessities brought on shipping containers, grateful we even have land to work even if we can’t earn enough money working at the resorts, restaurants, construction sites to pay for a single bedroom apartment, to keep a roof over our head, forcing us to camp next to the cardboard we pulled from dumpsters behind the Wal-Mart.


Melissa Llanes Brownlee (she/her), a native Hawaiian writer, living in Japan, has work published or forthcoming in The Rumpus, Fractured Lit, Flash Frog, Gigantic Sequins, Cream City Review, Indiana Review, and Craft. She is in Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, and Wigleaf Top 50. Read Hard Skin from Juventud Press and Kahi and Lua from Alien Buddha. She tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at