Two Poems by John Miller


–Kona Coast, Hawai’i

Too late, too late!  The double-hulled canoe

has pushed off from the sand without us.

In sunscreen and flamboyant beachwear,

lucky tourists paddle, pulling

toward the rounded rise of sea to sky.

We head back toward the beach hotel,

by NO FISHING signs along a pond

forever undisturbed, by poolside bodies

baking under cloudless skies,

back to our constant air-conditioning,

the cocktails with the same exotic names,

the same seafood and steak-and-lobster menu,

the “native” entertainment, the same king-sized bed.

They must have rowed through our horizon,

those lucky tourists—gone, we’re told,

through wind and sea-swells, reckonings and lore

pointing their twin prows back toward the Marquesas

or Tahiti, island origins

of present-day Hawai’ians.

We miss their usual sunburned presence

at our Happy Hour when we all

get sociably sloshed.  Distant from us now,

soaked by foam-crests, bending, straining,

chanting in unison,

they muscle deeper into night,

their sky a down-turned bowl of guiding stars.


             —in memory of CLE

Say it with flowers.  But what should

fresh plumerias have said for me,

their glossy milk-gold petals threaded,

their aroma almost suffocating

as I shifted one foot to the next, not

into the words I choked on?

                                              You stood shy

and silent also in that half-moon night

outside our eighth-grade canteen and its music,

lured by a speech I’d carefully prepared

and passed on through a friend.

                                                    The moon, too,

held its silence, golden, half-concealed

like your averted face;

and if a breeze whispered, it was only

as a figure of my strangled speech,

unspoken as the poetry I lacked

for wooing you.

Oh Clare, long dead, was it mere puppy love

there in the stir of early adolescence?

Did I brush your lips with mine, or just

your cheek?  You knew the custom—

a lei, a kiss when given, but how could mine

be understated so?  The flowers

lay around your neck, my lips were dry,

silence failed to speak its volumes,

and touch was something we were out of.

I tried for utterance from a tight throat,

but you had turned, were stepping,

head bent, fingering a flower, back inside

to face the music and the gossip.

About the Author:

Though born in Ohio (1933), John N. Miller grew up in Hawai’i (1937-1951), retired in 1997 from teaching literature and writing at Denison University, and now lives with his wife Ilse in a retirement community in Lexington, VA..