Imagine you’d come to Hawaiiki early.
I don’t have Hawaiiki.
Imagine you were in Heaven.
I don’t have Heaven.
Imagine you were in Paradise.
And in that Paradise the sea was cloudy with sunblock
and rushed up the beach tinkling with the gold rings
of newlyweds, and the metal-detectors of the homeless
were made very happy. The hills thrust up sharply,
dark, and cars burrowed through them
like rabbits. A woman in white
hitchhiked. If you took pork over the Pali
your car broke down. If you looked for a book
in a certain section of the Hamilton Library
a hand tapped you on the shoulder. In the carpark
of the Walmart where they disturbed the bones
the bones picked you clean. The sky
was hazy with vog, which made you dizzy.
The islands, the sea, the waterfall were pretty.
They closed the schools on Fridays
and it was too hot.
When you arrived in Paradise you thought it wasn’t Paradise.
You remembered home: crisp air, cold as a cave.
At home you knew someone who knew someone, a shadow,
and you would say hello.
In Paradise you shook hands. Meet the rabbit ears.
You don’t know. You don’t know.
In Paradise they sounded an emergency siren all over
the island every first of the month, 11.45am. You jumped
out of your skin. It was stinking hot anyway.
You might spare a thought for the indentured plantation workers
in their sugarcane cages, whose great-grandchildren
perform dental surgery at Ala Moana Tower.
There was no shade.
The rents were high and people said it was the price of Paradise
and other people said there should be an excise
tax so the children could go back to school on Fridays
although they didn’t really need school
because in Paradise you don’t need anything.
Depressed kids turn up at the Help Program
with the red-haired gene they need help with
For instance the word ‘bong’ echoes through the university
shuttle service, and the campus is full of stray cats
whose ancestors avoided the speying program.
There’s a certain peacefulness: Off-ramps with banks of tires,
escape routes for runaway trucks.
You clean the bathroom mirror in Paradise
and on the shelf below it a pink Post-It says ‘Dialects of Seeing’
in the round writing of your opposite. You don’t clean it up.
You know this is like a dream, this found thing,
and so, ho-hum – no human
endeavour. You didn’t make this up, you couldn’t
make this stuff up, but you tell it anyway.
In the little cold school you were told:
In Paradise you will sit for a while looking at everything
as if for the first time
and you will understand.
There were cool and hot things:
HIFF. In Paradise you needed films to while away the time.
Honolulu Contemporary Art Museum, an exhibition of empty rooms,
a carved wooden weed growing out of a skirting board. A variety
of friendliness. Kim chee, mandoo, spicy ahi maki, manapoua buns.
Paris Station, if you needed a vintage handbag, which you wouldn’t
because this was Paradise and in Paradise you didn’t need money.
A vintage handbag was pure luxury.
It was dazzling and I was dazzled. The sea.
They were filming the tv show Lost on the island
although it was probably digital. They were filming
Barbarian Princess they were filming a remake of Hawaii Five-O
they were filming a surfing movie they were filming
a thin layer of chlorophyll. They closed the Hawai’i Film Office
because the money it attracted to Hawai’i
wasn’t necessary in Paradise.
Warmth rose through your body and you stopped cringing
and the balconies of apartment blocks looked like box seats
for the Pacific Ocean and for the Sun King, and you wanted
to wave from one, your fan, your beauty spot.
Creaky villas fell away and you smiled at the bright new
friends you’d made. The school you went to
toppled into the cold gully below it, and the magpies
rose oodle-ardling until they were full stops
and the extinct varieties of Hawai’i filled your bookshelves.
A cat you knew once became mythical, but you were
always going to outlive it anyway
and a cousin on your mother’s side fell away
and the bus to Ala Moana, the voice telling you the stops in
well-articulated Hawaiian, became comforting.
And the warmth rose through your body
and it rose through your body and it rose
through your body.
And I saw that I was dead and that this was Paradise.
Anne Kennedy’s most recent book is the narrative poem, The Time of the Giants (AUP). She has worked as a screenwriter, editor, and teacher of fiction and screenwriting.
Kennedy comments: ‘I wrote this (which is part of a longer thing), when my family and I were near the end of a seven-year stint in Honolulu. In the early days we used to joke that we had come to Hawaiiki, the resting place of spirits, early. The truth is I didn't like Hawai’i at first. The islands are often described as a paradise, and they are, but like anywhere, there are problems - one of them huge numbers of homeless. What I realized over time is that coming to know a place, its people, ways, and landscape, is to accept and then to love it. It is also to die a little to what went before. This sounds pretentious, but hopefully not in the poem – hopefully that’s what poems are for.’