Tuesday, February 23, 2010

373. Molokai

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 Molokai in the early 1970s. Since then the hotel chains have moved in and the place has been totally made over. Here's some further info on the leper peninsula of Kalaupapa.