The Big Island

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On a generic bright day on the western coast
The mood lightens in harmony with a sensual sun
And a lulling, gentle breeze encouraging
Foam-tipped, glistening sea breakers.
The scimitar-shaped swells advance
In constant motion to frame helpless fish
Swept into their grasping, muscular arms.
Their water-color artistry, punctuated
By the thud and thunder of surf music,
Buffs and sculptures the dark shoulders of the land.
They frolic, in a hypnotic dance,
And dazzlingly whitened by the brightness
Of the sunlight and sky, splash about,
Casting smithereens and sheen
On broad aprons of spilled lava,
The solid residue of other billows eons ago
That streamed hot and red from smoking,
Jagged peaks to the East, And, strong-armed by gravity,
Hissed in snaky layers as they cooled.
Hurling steam in their wake, they relentlessly built,
In soft tongues or in woven strands,
Symmetric coils of a woman's hair.
After piling upon themselves, in youth,
Like players on a football field;
As seniors, finally settling for the status quo,
They collectively rose above the Pacific flow
To become a young island,
With a 500-thousand-year construction career.
But what of the erosion
Of this natural wealth and spent people,
Only remnants still visible in a decaying treasury?
At Kona this flat layered-cake is frosted
With man's macadam decoration, enabling
The flights of fleet machines that expensively
Ring up dollars for business executives
By whisking armchair adventurers
Over small towns, fishing and tourist boats;
Crazily twisting switchback roads, blazing flora;
Coffee plantations and macadamia nut groves;
Kilauea's smoldering fires, liquid tongues
And occasional colorful magma fountains;
Mauna Kea's snow-encircled observatory;
Crags and caldenas, breathtaking waterfalls,
And seething coastline of multi-colored sand.
The composite is a panorama for the well-to-do,
But at ground level one can view
A doomed culture nursing mortal wounds.
Long before the lighter faces seeking opportunity
For fishing records, work, or climatic relief
Another ethnic group floated across the sea,
Some became known as the elite Alii,
Seeking new territory, space and prosperity.
Under the rule of belligerent chiefs,
Warriors surged through the island chain and surf,
To seek power, prestige and lava turf.
Seafaring settlers, who paid homage to gods,
Came together with their women, who took refuge
With frightened children in secret lava tubes
When the enemy grew fierce.
Survivors succumbed to the greater firepower,
Political intrigue and disease of clever outsiders.
The bones of these Polynesian ancestors
Rest buried in sacred sites,
Few known now by name;
Not easily identified except for vague acreages
Of bleak mounds of rocks tagged with "kapu" signs,
Making them taboo for curious outsiders
Hesitating only for a glance;
Absorbing another dwindling custom
In stark contrast with their own.
Dating predecessors is also indeterminate
For no papyrus trail or Rosetta Stone provides a key
To those elusive figures in history,
Who, legends say, took to their watery Sinai
Only a half-millenium after Christ walked in Galilee.
They had braved storms and high seas,
Setting out from far south Tahiti,
In hand-hewn boats; transporting dreams and families,
Thinning down on sparse diets of fish caught en route,
Perhaps chickens and pigs and a little dried fruit;
To navigate, these sailors from afar
Preferred ocean currents to the stars.
Excited, on shaky legs, after the exhausting voyage,
Did they first touch land, as myth explains,
At South Point, a lonely, barren landfall,
Replete with natural wonder and windsong?
Did they fall gratefully on these beaches
And climb lava cliffs to give
Thanks to their dieties for a safe landing
In what must have seemed like Paradise?
Grandeur through crushing time has lost its aura,
To fade from idylllic to a sad shadow;
Fallen like the odd coconut from its parent tree,
Lying, cracked and blackening, for all to see.
A veneer remains of former beauty,
But vestiges are sullied by modernity:
Traffic, milling strangers and tourist shops;
Vast Wal-mart and McDonald's stocks,
Marketed from a base of volcanic rock;
Part of a Pacific jewel shocked
By a tsunami of advertising and types
Of TV and radio fantasy and hype,
Engendered by pervasive foreign waves
Effectively shattering Polynesian culture and race.
Original bloodlines now diluted to one percent
Partly through plantation owners, bent
On pursuing a crazed colonialist stand,
In a frenzy for profits and grasping for land.
They shipped in hordes of hands to tap fields of cane;
Who came, took, wives, mixed and remained;
Even missionary progeny cash in without care,
And sell precious holdings to millionaires
For more marts, vacations and tennis courts;
To add more berths and yachting ports
And make more appealing the tourist lure;
Such deals largely bankrupt of help for the poor
Or making any significant mark
In healing the sick or designing a park.
Ukuleles strum and lyrics reflect yesteryears
In a musical language enticing the ears;
Nubile maidens clad in daring sarongs;
Seductively sway, arms akimbo, in songs;
Flowers flourish in flowing tresses;
Dark flora themselves; but thought distresses
As languid darkness descends, and observers depart;
A sense of bereavement pummels the heart;
For the lostness of a generation
And a people's heritage, along with their nation.