On Maui with a ballpoint pen
I understand pandanus trees,
forms of root, leaf and shadow,
ocean ripple and lava cliff.
Bob, who lives near San Francisco,
says he likes my drawing while
aimlessly stabbing his coconut.
“This is hard work,” he complains.
“Try giving more attention
to what you’re trying to do,” I say.
“The husk is heavy fibers and
you want to pry them off the nut.”
The sun pulls sweat from his patience
and he says, “I’ll pay you to peel it.”
Still playing the role of his teacher,
I say, “All right, but you have to watch.”
Bob talks of women and money while
I slice and pry with the screwdriver,
looks surprised, says, “I was robbed!”
when the husk is off in a moment.
The sun may shine outside
but it is always twilight
in the bamboo grove.
Two men clatter off the path,
talking about bamboo in Vietnam.
I think of tigers hidden in green,
of me and bamboo, both exotics
meeting on Maui.
“This bamboo is something else,
isn’t it?” one of the men
asks me. I say, “Yeah.”
On my way back from the falls
I wish I could sleep in the bamboo,
to experience twilight and night,
but there’s nowhere to lie down.
Perched on a sea rock
with nowhere to go,
it turns its head toward me,
a one-armed praying mantis.
Wading in a cove
I see through shifting patterns
an impulsive gem.
I desire nothing more
than to watch, long as I can.
with emerald and turquoise
fins and stripes and tail.
A Japanese master could
paint this fish with a few strokes!
I turn stones for it
to nibble what’s beneath while
the sun burns my back.
Sundown, a millpond ocean, jagged rocks,
vigorous strokes with a stiff square end brush
Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa pale purple,
the sea a silvery blue, the sky pastel,
a couple of purple clouds nearby,
low clouds around the coast of Hawaii.
A green measuring worm
on a poetry magazine
crawls past “new space
out of you with each heartbeat,”
to the edge of the page,
to my shoe.
Waves crashing on rocks
seem orgasmic. It’s been days
since I’ve talked to anyone.
I turn my head and see
a long-legged orb spider
on a web as big as a plate.
While I wait for a ride,
a long-horned bright green grasshopper
stands on the hairs on my leg.
Maggan walks the edge of the canal,
looking for water lily flowers to photograph.
Frogs say yike! and splash,
one by one, as she approaches.
She snaps a picture of me
sketching lily pads
with the pen cap in my mouth.
“That’s a good picture,” she says.
“You painting water lilies.”
lit by the moon’s rising bowl,
streetlights and stars.
I sit on cool sand beneath the half moon,
using the Big Dipper to find
the Pole Star near the horizon.
In the Volcano Art Gallery
I’m separated from my friend.
Paintings, carvings, jewelry
swirl in and out of sight
like fishes in the bay
or sailboats at dusk.
On a rack with postcards
I see a poetry magazine,
open it to unlock lives
of people I’ll never meet,
to see these island volcanos
through understanding eyes.
I sit with eyes watering
less bitter than the sea,
on a rock on the shore
where Captain Cook was killed.
A monarch butterfly
is here and then gone.
Picnic tables, sand, and kiawe trees,
birds chibbering and squawking,
soft drone of a sheltered bay,
sun’s burning ribbon on the waves,
prowling cats nosing food scraps.
copyright © 2005 Carl Miller
Painting, “Kaumahina Palm”: 1982, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 inches. A young palm tree at Kaumahina State Park, with Keanae peninsula in the background.