What makes the stars so violent
In the soul of a typhoon
When beaches are so silent
Inside their pale lagoon,

If not the rage and ruin outside
Their heart? Such grief,
Lulled for now to tide
On a distant tumbling reef,

Folded in the vortex
Of the boiling world,
Is the water’s latent cortex
Waiting to be hurled

At sleeping bougainvillea,
Covered now in night,
Far away from the idea
Of lurching, kindless blight

That charms you with its breath,
Drowning lips in sounds,
Dashing eyes to death
On the whirlpool grounds

Of white-washed walls and planks.
The moon-lashed trunk above our
Martial garden heaves and clanks
Like a windbound spar,

Worried by the mid-sea surge,
Churned like us by doubt,
Whose canopies submerge
As stars flicker and go out:

Moon blown, beam worn,
In the graceless deep,
Lucklorn, sky-torn,
Dead against the sweep,

Windgall, dayfall,
Tide against the truss,
Breakwall, close haul,
Come at last to us

In the fury of the storm
Where the poles of passion strain
As summer keeps us briefly warm
And words ward off the crowding main.


This started as a description of the particular nature of stars in the middle of the Pacific. They don’t feel like stars anywhere else. There, they smell of salt and shipwreck. This by itself didn’t seem enough excuse for a poem at the time, although the next poem I wrote, “Sea Sky,” tried to get closer to the idea.

It began as a free association of the sounds and scents of night in the semi-tropics. It’s always breezy, but the wind grows like a child’s eyes looking at the sea. The darker it gets, the wilder the sounds grow. The less input from the eye, the more computing power for the ears and the imagination. While the waves widen, the moonscape remains deceptively calm. Hawaii is farther away from everywhere on the planet than anywhere, and you feel the isolation and stillness, especially at night, that south seas create. You might as well be in Pago Pago.

I often begin with a conclusion, and then work backwards, which is what we do, as Cathy points out, when we travel. We want to end up in China, so we take a plane, so we call the airlines. I used to read books backwards as a child, driven by the end to see how it all came about. I am always backtracking.

Cathy says the poem is backwards, like a cyclone in the south, spewing out clichés with contrary adjectives. I wrote it on Sunday night, July 27th, 2003, rewrote it on the 28th, redid it at the laundry, and finished it the next morning where I began it, surrounded by thrashing palms under a flapping umbrella.

July 27th, 2003