from TUSITALA’S ISLAND
The swift descent through darkening air,
Lights, leaning palms, and reef-encircled there
Your Island, Tusitala - a rush of fragrant heat,
Warm laughter in our ears,
Warm earth beneath out feet,
And as we dreamed it, jewelled, high,
Your wide, your starry sky.
"Behind the left ear if you're single,
Behind the right if you're married;''
The voice from the foyer carried
Soft, explicit, clear,
But the plumber-boy passed laughing
A flower behind each ear.
"Why two?" a curious guest
Called from the swimming-pool.
"Just,"was the joyful answer,
"To be beautiful."
What was it, then, we thought to teach?
Carton, beer-bottle - drop them on the beach?
The white-man's trash-can - there it lies –
Palagi waste polluting paradise.
Sack-laden trucks, crammed buses, hungry dogs, and heat;
Baskets, bright umbrellas, children, jandalled feet,
And eager vendors squatting, cross-legged, their watchful eyes
Half hidden behind mounds of morning merchandise:
Taro, bread-fruit, green bananas, and gourmet ones they call
Lady-fingers, - golden, plump, sugar-sweet and small.
Cocoa, like black putty, that willing house-boys brew
Fool-hardy guests, or, gleeful, buy in sticky lumps and chew.
All colour, chaos, movement, until the noon sun stares
On empty streets, and weary forms stretched, sleeping,
by their wares.
These graves about the fale say:
Even in death you are not far away.
By day, the children bring to you
The wild hibiscus as they always do;
Your smaller fale shares our fale's light.
Our talk is yours; the laughter that you hear,
Your laughter; Death's not far, but near –
So near, that even when we weep
It is your tears we find upon our sleep;
And pondering all these Island graves have said
I think again upon our Western dead:
The bleak hill-side, the broken cross,
The seeping moss ....
Always I shall remember it
A rainbow brilliant, storm-stencilled,
On sky slate grey.
Beneath it - the perfect still-life –
Palms, rocks, sand-curving coast,
And upright, frail, among the waving hands,
A slender ghost.
One of my health regrets is that I can no longer travel. I always planned to go to Samoa for a holiday sometime. Part of the attraction was to see Robert Louis Stevenson’s grave, a desire reinforced when I read Roger Robinson’s book about him, 'His Best Pacific Writings'. Alas! It is not to be. Ruth Gilbert is another poet who fell under the same author’s spell. More than that, the whole culture and way of life. Tusitala is the name the Samoans gave to the famous writer.
The 2018 Book Council Lecture
2 days ago