Ask Me for the Moon: Working Nights in Waikiki
“Ask Me for the Moon: Working Nights in Waikiki” is a non-linear work of digital poetry created by John Zuern, an English professor at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. The work was first published in the Iowa Review Web in 2005. The poem begins as a series of white words fade in and out against a black background. The words intermingle with one another in such a way that the reader feels a sense of ebbing flow, similar to the waves on the shore. Slowly, the Waikiki night skyline appears, with the words continuing to wash in and out beneath the Waikiki scene. Eventually, the intro ends, leaving the reader with the choice of several different photographs from a collage to click.
From this point, the poem becomes non-linear, allowing the reader to choose his or her own path in the poem. Each of the five options available from the main menu branches into its own sub-menu, complete with several options of its own. Many of the choices have sounds to accompany them, mostly consisting of a combination of waves and working noises in keeping with the poem. Additionally, several of the poems end in larger amounts of text in paragraph form outlining particular points that Zuern wants to highlight. Throughout the poem, black, white, and a few shades of light turquoise dominate the color scheme, giving the work the feeling of a rundown resort.
The actual text of the poem emphasizes the life hidden beneath the commercial side of Waikiki – the life of the workers in the shadows, of an island overrun, and of a culture forgotten. Through its simple black and white text, the poem mourns the loss of indigenous culture to tourism and vacationers. One of the most textually effective techniques that Zuern employs is the morphing a sentence into another by allowing all of one sentence to fade from the page except for a single word. Then, another sentence will fade in, incorporating the word left by the first sentence and allowing it to take on a whole new meaning. For example, he writes at one point, “in frigid kitchens in florescent corridors all work.” Next the entire sentence except for the word “work” fades to black, eventually being replaced by the phrase, “work is night work.” This method of replacing the sentence around the word to change its meaning helps to illustrate his point in a way that plain text would struggle to do. Just like the word, Waikiki’s beach and tide have remained, but they mean something completely different to the tourists who now walk the beach at high-end resorts than they do to the people who work the night shifts to earn a living and than they did to the original Hawaiians.
Several portions of Zuern’s work include short phrases and paragraphs by philosophers and political theorists. Each of these paragraphs appears at the end of a section, often along with a paragraph or two that explain the motivation behind that section of poetry. Throughout, however, the feeling is one of despair; a feeling that broods of a culture on the brink of collapse looking back at its simple glory in pre-colonial times. The quotes included by Zuern reflect such a feeling.
Something that I found frustrating about the site was the inability to return to particular places or portions of text. With no written table of contents or simple menu, there was no way to return to or find a quote that I was interested in re-reading. Although this made the text more difficult to explore, the inability to return continued to demonstrate the theme of the poem. Just as I was often unable to return to a portion of the poem that I enjoyed, so the original owners of Oahu were unable to return to their land that had been turned into resorts and private beaches. As I began to realize this, the site’s design, layout, and features began to make more sense to me, and I started to appreciate it in ways that I had not before. Without the digital design, much of the feeling, motion, and sounds of the poem would be lost, and the poem would fail to have the intended effect on the reader. In this way, Zuern utilized the digital aspects of the site to create a true digital work of poetry.