Two poems by John Miller

FROM THE LUXURY HOTEL
–Kona Coast, Hawaiʻi

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 Hawaiians.

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 HONOLULU, 1947
—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.