Consider Father Damien’s right hand
beneath the earth at Kalaupapa where

the rotting flesh of outcast lepers
defiled living bone
their spit falling
from ruined mouths

how he offered
that hand to them
joined their suffering
would not let them

die alone until
his own flesh decayed
on living bone now crumbled to
dust in a Leuven cemetery and

his right hand disappeared
on Molokai beneath
the earth where
lepers walked

yet still its form
its perfect extension
how it illuminates
the dark


Father Damien served outcasts at the Kalaupapa leper colony in Hawaii from 1873 until his death from the disease in 1889. Initially interred at the settlement, the body of the Belgian priest was returned to his homeland in 1936.  After his canonization in 1995, Damien’s right hand was re-interred in his original grave at Kalaupapa.  At a time when we regard each other first as potential disease vectors and, somewhat later, as human beings,  Damien’s courage and compassion affirm the better angels of our nature.  Here’s more on Kalaupapa.



  1. This post is great! Keep up the good work!


    1. I’ll do my best. Thank you for the encouragement!


  2. slukwago · · Reply

    Many of us are regarding each other first as a disease vector, and later as a human. I am one of those who is doing that. I am being so cautious, risking neglecting the human and the connection we all have to one another. Thank you for this poem and prose, Rafiki. Reminder

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are most welcome, my friend. The extreme isolation of this time is taking a toll on many, especially those who live alone.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Father Damien was truly responding to a higher call in his work with the lepers. In 2002 I visited Molokai on a photography venture – came away with photos and some far more valuable imprints – Father Damien’s commitment one of those. I did not get to tour Kalaupapa, but viewed it from an overlooking cliff with a knowledgeable guide. Father Damien’s commitment during his years with the lepers is a gift to generations to come – a model of higher calling. Your poem is a wonderful way to spread awareness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jazz. If you look at my prose post (linked at the bottom of the poem), I bet you’ll see a photograph from the cliff you mention. I was able to tour the colony in 2017, after walking down the steep zig-zagging path from that cliff. It made quite an impression on me, too. Others also put their own health at risk for years, helping the lepers — including Mother Marianne Cope — but the fact that Damien paid the price of his own life makes him the one history best remembers.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Happy New Year, Cate. I hope it’s a good one for you. … I believe there are still many more decent, compassionate people among us, continually striving to do the right thing. They are the ones upholding and guarding the principles that should be lived by. How unfortunate the others, always yelling louder, are being amplified ever more by the miracle of technology, which would be better utilized for good. … Wishing you always the best. -Russ


    1. Thanks, Russ. Certainly wishing you the best, too. Seems like 2021 has to be better than 2020. I understand what you’re saying about principles. Unfortunately, “right” means one thing viewed through the self-interested filter of fear (which breeds violence) and another when considered calmly, with a concern not just for ourselves, but for other people, other species and the Earth itself. Those disparate orientations are tough to bridge.

      Liked by 1 person

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