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The pilot in his shorts and Aloha shirt

skims low, very low, over Maui island,

at ease in his little 12-seater;

now he dives to show us a herd of goats

who scatter, and all the passengers

grin widely but hold on awful tight.


On the ground. Alive. Molokai.

The aiport's about the size of a caravan

with a smell of rain, bougainvillea, plumeria;

shrug on the backpack, head off for the road

where the first car slows down, stops,

"Eh, brah' – wanna ride" – "Sure!"


"You wanna stay my house, eh?" – "What?"

"Eh, brah', you like take or geev?" –

understanding takes a few minutes or so;

it seems like boys like boys on this island

and they're so removed from the tourist track

that nobody even knows or cares.


I politely, regretfully, refuse: what a prick

I am, well, maybe in this case a non-prick,

but the young driver just shrugs and smiles;

he takes me to the eastern tip of the island,

to a hidden valley, a track to a waterfall,

one of the loveliest places I've ever seen.


I camp for two days, see nobody,

smoke dope, walk naked, talk to God,

the sort of things we did in those days;

when supplies run out I head for the road,

and sure enough, the first car stops again,

and (polite refusals later) drops me in town.


With some food and good-priced pakalolo,

I hitch a ride north, walk through pineapple fields,

and in a grove of trees set up my evening camp;

in the soft pastels of the morning, in boots and denims

I stumble down the crazy drops of the dangerous trail

to Kalaupapa, the forbidden peninsula .


So little, in those days, had really changed

since the time of Damien, the Belgian priest

who had come here to care for the castoffs;

this spit of land had been set aside for lepers,

an affliction the islanders could not deal with,

and it was in exile here they lived … and died.


The setting was far from grim, rather beautiful,

made into a village now of whiteboard houses,

the mountain behind, the sun-speckled sea around;

an old man, a leper, was pleased to guide me,

so very cheerful and gay with his stumps of fingers,

and it was a day of humility, sunshine and hope.


Later, back in Waikiki, more-or-less grinding out

the dirty dollars that would later set me free,

amid braying mid-Westerners, the military, the local touts,

my mind would revert to that lovely little island,

a place so physically close yet so far far away,

with its elderly lepers, its diffident homosexuals.




This was the Kalaupapa trail and Molokai in the early 1970s. Since then the hotel chains have moved in and the place has been totally made over. For further info on the leper peninsula: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Father_Damien

Edited by dedalus

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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I went to the link in the footnote first and read the article with fascination. When it came time to read the poem, I expected to find a historical narrative of what had happened on Molokai. That would've been okay, too, but I was delighted to find in its stead an intriguing present-day travel adventure which also highlighted historical aspects. Thanks for raising awareness -- it's always useful to learn something about the culture and background of a place and its natives -- and for presenting it in the form of a personal chronicle.



Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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