NO LOOK BACK by Timothy Dyke - Excerpt from DON'T LOOK BACK



Don't Look Back

Hawaiian Myths Made New – An Anthology of Modern Mo‘olelo. In this one-of-a-kind anthology, old meets new as Hawai‘i’s best writers present favorite myths and legends in surprising contemporary settings.


Timothy Dyke moved from Texas to Hawai‘i in 1992 and has lived and worked on O‘ahu ever since. A writer and a teacher, he has published art reviews and feature articles in The Honolulu Advertiser, short stories in the Santa Monica Review and the Honolulu Weekly, for whom he has also written music reviews and cover stories. He is currently on leave from teaching English and working in the chapel at Punahou School and is pursuing an MFA in creative writing at the University of Arizona.

More myths, please!

Read excerpts from other tales in the Don't Look Back anthology:

J. Freen's IF YOU GOOGLEEARTH 1188 BISHOP STREET

Darien Gee's PELE IN THERAPY

Gary Pak's LANGUAGE OF THE GECKOS

Christine Thomas' PLACES OF ENTRY

A.A. Attanasio's SEX, LOVE AND THE MIGHTY FINE STRUCTURE CONSTANT


The perpetuity of myth and legend is, and has always been, paralleled by a lively tradition of distilling, retelling, and recasting the epics and grand tales in completely new, often abbreviated, contemporary forms. These recast stories are themselves brand-new and sometimes spontaneous productions. With themes and dynamics drawn from the classics, the characters are often contemporary and may barely reflect the original heroes and gods, the settings are intentionally familiar, and the issues and actions are intentionally current. The myths, in their “classical” forms, connect the common roots of human society from times ancient to today, while the recastings make the longevity of those attitudes, principles, and ethics immediately relevant.

The contemporary tales in this collection are presented as chants of celebration, arias of advice, and revelatory refrains, composed in resonance with the tempos and scales of stories long known and legends long told.


— Dr. M. Puakea Nogelmeier, foreword to Don’t Look Back


NO LOOK BACK

Timothy Dyke

INSPIRED BY THE LEGEND OF MĀUI THE FISHERMAN

Māui ventured out to sea with his brothers, who made fun of him for not catching as many fish as they did. Frustrated with her son’s inability, Māui’s mother, Hina, sends him to his father to receive a special hook to help him fish more effectively. His brothers eventually allow Māui to come along on their fishing adventures, and for a while, they are only moderately successful; but then Māui baits his magic hook with the ‘alae, a bird sacred to their mother, casts his line into the sea, and almost immediately, the magic hook snags a great fish that pulls the boat past the waves and deep out to sea.

For two days, Māui and his brothers follow the hooked fish on their taut line. Eventually, as the fish tires the line slackens, and Māui yells for his brothers to help him reel it in. As they pull, land rises out of the water. His brothers watch in amazement, but Māui instructs them to pull with their eyes straight ahead, never looking behind at their snagged prey. One brother cannot resist, and when he looks back the line snaps. Māui had been on the verge of pulling up a new continent, but when his brother gazes back, the land lies beyond their reach, fragmented into islands.

In Māui stories there is a fine line between destruction and creation, between mischief and genius. I’ll always be drawn to Māui, and while I would never be so arrogant as to compare myself to him, I will say that I know what it’s like to be the troublemaking brother. I admire the way he turns awkward family interactions into opportunities for magic. Like many great legends, this particular tale satisfies a need to give mythic explanation to complicated scientific phenomena. How did the Hawaiian island chain emerge? This story provides a poetic and compelling answer, and in its warning not to look back, it also echoes some themes found in myths and legends from other cultures. Personally, his admonition resonates.


* * *

I’m trying to construct a tale about my friend, Logan Cabrera. It’s difficult for me to look back at all the events that happened between us and find one clear instance of narrativelaunch. I could begin on the day we met, or on the day I was born. I could focus on the way the trouble started. I could start with the morning I came out of the closet. I could begin today and move backward.

Back in the day, there was a high school teacher and a former student. Once upon a time, I drove the kid out to Sand Island when he was strung out on OxyContin. I could begin with the moment I picked up the telephone. I could describe the afternoon in Phoenix when I watched him snort heroin through the shaft of a ballpoint pen. Or I could start, as I often do, by wandering off on a tangent connected to some recent conversation from English class.

I teach an elective for high school seniors called “The Bible as Literature.” Early last semester, I was talking to my students about the story from Genesis about Lot and his wife. I find that story hard to analyze, and I was asking the kids in my class to explain specific plot points. Some of them have it in their heads that God destroyed Sodom to purge his land of gay people, and while I wasn’t necessarily trying to contradict their upbringings, I was attempting to steer them toward a more nuanced interpretation.

“Hey,” I asked my class as we got to the part where Lot’s wife turns to a pillar of salt. (She would have been fine if Lot had resisted the temptation to turn around and check on her.) “Doesn’t this remind you of the Greek myth of Orpheus?” They looked at me with mild recognition. “In Greek myth, Orpheus goes down to the underworld to rescue his lover, Eurydice.” I saw a kid move a thumb toward his iPhone, but I ignored him. “Do you all know this story?” Most did, but some didn’t, so we etched out important details: Orpheus is allowed to take Eurydice from Hades, but he’s told that when he exits the underworld, he’s not to look back at her. He starts walking and, as he gets anxious, he turns around to gaze behind. Eurydice disappears, never to return again. Erica, the girl with the mushroom design on her hoodie, announced that a Māui story went the same way.

“Really?” I asked. “How does it go?”

“I’m not sure,” she said. “We read it in fourth grade.”

John Cho told us that Māui was a fisherman who tricked his brothers, and one time he started pulling up what seemed like the biggest fish in the sea. Māui was pulling up a continent. He warned his brother not to look behind the boat, but the brother was weak and looked back. The line snapped and the land broke up into islands. John Cho ended his recitation with a pronouncement: “That’s how we got Hawai‘i.”

Caroline Wong seemed to think John had it wrong somehow. “You’re mixing up a couple of stories. You told it more watered down.”

Attempting to grab control of the discussion, I asked a question about human nature. “What does it tell us that three different cultures across time and space all tell sacred stories about the dangers of looking behind?” I glanced briefly at the clock and then at a girl playing with her earring. “Why would human beings keep reminding each other not to look back?”

Let’s just say my Sand Island story begins when Logan called me at five o’clock in the afternoon. That day I stood in line for what seemed like hours at Satellite City Hall, and at seven I was due at HPU, on the other side of the island, for a theater audition. I’d known Logan since he was my creative writing student ten years before; we stayed in touch after graduation. For whatever reason, he turned to me when he dropped out of UH, after his parents kicked him out of their house in Waipahu. For whatever reason, I felt compelled to act as his savior. It’s easiest, I suppose, to retreat to language of pop psychology and say finally that ours was a codependent relationship. I don’t really like using such reductive description, but these words express certain truths: He was a drug addict; I was an emotionally needy gay man. In other ways, I’m sure it makes sense just to say we were friends.

An hour before I was to drive out to HPU for The Cherry Orchard callback, my phone rang. It was Logan, and as soon as I heard his voice I was overcome by simultaneous waves of worry and relief. The last time we’d talked he told me he was relapsing. He had been clean going on two and a half years. He had returned to school, restored his relationship with his parents, and devoted himself to recovery. Then he called me after Christmas and said flatly, “I’m using again.” Now he was calling me from Chinatown, asking for my help. Something had happened to his car and he was stranded. He wanted me to pick him up in front of the rRed Elephant Café in thirty minutes. Remember that place? I kind of liked it, though at this point, it’s difficult for me to associate it with anything other than spell-check and drug relapse.

I told him I had an audition for a play at HPU. “I have to be there in an hour…”

Even as I fought traffic on my way to Chinatown, I knew I shouldn’t be picking him up. Logan has told me many times that if his addiction asks me to do something, I should tell it no. Still, I was just so glad to hear his voice. It seemed wrong not to pick him up.

* * *

Timothy Dyke's story "No Look Back" appears in its entirety, along with 16 other tales, in the anthology Don't Look Back: Hawaiian Myths Made New, edited by Christine Thomas.

All stories in this anthology reprinted by permission with copyrights retained by individual authors. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information retrieval systems, without prior written permission from the publisher, except for brief passages quoted in reviews.