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BURNING THE BOATS (poem) - Adam Aitken - Australia - Poetry International

 
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Burning the Boats (Hawai’i)
1

Like one true gram of tenderness
he weighs her fire in a boat of gold.
The island tide sweeping the coral
luminous under keels, strangers wave
in the groves. Conch shells blow.
It all seems welcoming.

She needs a big-wave man like Duke.
Each evening, at sunset, she is there
watching the night flood in.
Trained to keep house, constant
as tradewinds she welcomes
the tillerman, brews the booze.
Why he blindfolds passengers
what flora makes him high, she never asks.

For this is Disco-island, Tsunami-shocked,
time-warped in quiet industry.
If she made a union jack bed-quilt or
a better fishing net, would she catch a better fisherman?
Once a thousand birds made one cape.
Now royalty’s a museum piece,
calcified embryos, blanched lips of coral
bone transparencies in kerosene dreams.
She hones the hook
on lava’s hard horizon.

Here they say  
there are no clouds, only fumes, a bootleg distillery
volcanoes pickling the bay.
Her harvest landscape
with fire-gods, limewashed angels,
his dragon painted on her prow.


2 Pearl Harbor

I thought I’d seen the edges of America,
islands of hyphenated races
and it was copyright: miles of surf,
one church, one post office, new outrigger
christened “Chevrolet”, hire cars
parked outside the old coffee plant.
Congested as heaven fanned by trades.
Vulcanism in an eagle province.
Red rust earth, like Queensland.
A woman with a Chinese/Sydney ancestor
selling chocolate coffee beans said
go look him up in the library, if I had time
and send her back the missing tree.

I could have bought more bad coffee
or a recipe book for Spam –
compressed pink bricks swimming
in plug-in pans of fat, Spamburger, Spam soup
and Pineapple, the Black Market History of Spam
Spam as the great leveller.

Back in Honolulu, Kentucky peroxide
bombshells cruised by
crunching stillettos on an early night,
murmured “Arigatos” and “Kombanwas”.
Beacons blinked in their sleepy heads,
phantom lights of L.A., a future acting job,
neon froth and men with ale and arsenic in their veins.
A corner for a strawberry blond
like “Sugar” who rigged the shanty bar
with long thatched hair
her tattooed man backstage
watching tides on a Budweiser’s rim.
Where fish in fish traps used to congregate.

It’s fate, they growl, when tides can’t wash away
a swamp becalmed, grey poison anchored there.
New fort, fresh god and new seawalls.
On Lei Day Hula girls in neck-to-knee white lace
tuck in their crucifixes, go on dates
in pineapple forests and the Navy parking lot.
On a daytrip to Pearl Harbor
a bus of brats lined up for heritage day.
USS Arizona  sunken under glass.
In the legal advice bureau I met
the princess poet.
It’s fate she says, we were sleeping when she sank.
She could only love it here, pulling
native boys out of jaill. Anyhow
the President had apologised.
That’s official, integration and the end of slavery
but if the Asians wanted to stay, OK.
She’d had it up to here with politics.

I thought: now we make our  lingo sell.
Mount Kilauea was active again.
Has anyone ever told you
you look Latino? I saw my face
in a cliff of rocks.
She said she’d write me
when the smoke had cleared, when
I had understood.