Jan/Feb 2011 Poetry

Two Poems

by Derek N. Otsuji

To The Kilauea Lighthouse

On the drive out to Kilauea Point
—the point northernmost on the island chain—
we read a signpost: "Warning: Bird Crossing."
Right below the painted letters there stood
a painted bird—a nene sketched in white—
to illustrate exactly what was meant.
Not art, but love, had put us on alert
(love steadying the unseen painter's hand)
and inching forward in our rented vehicle,
we accounted for each bird, each in turn
accounted for by a numbered band clapped
on one foot, a color Darvic band on
the other. Yet, we were nothing if not
culpable, our meek (yes, meek) encroachment
still hinting at extinctions yet to come.

But there was an appointment to be kept.
We parked, paid our entrance fee, and hiked up
the beaten trail paved with macadam, when
midway to the lighthouse another sign,
posted at the foot of a small dirt mound
covered with naupaka, halted our steps:
"Only birds permitted beyond this point."
It was as if the voice of nature spoke
to chasten the feet straying from the trail:
For beneath the growth of leaves were hidden
small ground burrows, where the wedge-tail shearwater
lays a single egg.
    Arriving, we found
the lighthouse standing there on the peninsula
at the island chain's northernmost point
somewhat shorter than the one we'd seen
(or had we seen?) in classic picture postcards.
But our spirits soon lifted at the sight
of dozens of seabirds—black, brownish gray, and white—
hovering in the air above our heads:
Great frigate, tropic bird, booby, albatross.
We learned how to identify each one
with the help of informational placards
and colored illustrations of each bird.
One bird in particular—the red-tailed tropic
—with white plumage, a black thief's mask, red beak,
and thinnest red filament for a tail
—caught our interest because of its "complex
aerial courtship displays," which one
of the placards had described in detail.

We looked up and, searching the air, caught sight
of one bird, flying, at first, just like the others,
but then suddenly stopping in mid-flight,
his bright wings beating, no, "rowing," against
an invisible current, as he moved,
or rather shifted, ever so slightly, backward,
before circling, then standing—brilliantly erect—
like a unicyclist or circus bear
in a virtuosic "vertical display,"
as if he were courting looks, yes, our looks—
as we stood, feet planted at sea cliff's edge—
at the chain of island's northernmost point.


Lunar Lullaby

Lunar influence, undetectable
by means of physical instruments, might
conceivably be detected by living things

Oysters open, like pewter music boxes,
whose silent melodies play when the moon's
positioned overhead and underfoot;

sea urchins' eggs ripen like sweet berries,
under an influence curious and obscure;
zooplankton bloom on illumined waters;

and schools of juvenile blue-headed wrasse—
their movements attuned to lunar phases—
once the old moon is vanished from the sky

settle the reefs five days after the new.
Exits, entrances, fullness and eclipse,
the lunar push and pull on living things

no less real for being immeasurable
no less immeasurable for being real.


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