Phantoms of Paradise


The dark silhouette of a long canoe

gliding effortlessly

across the shimmering gold sea

stops me from entering the water,

struck by its artful trick of light

or something more—the mystery 

of a timeless Polynesian journey.


Alone on the white sands, 

I’m the only one to witness  

the six silhouetted paddlers 

moving in perfect rhythm 

and silence, shadowed

despite the burnished sea.


Is it a blessing of the island gods

or a warning to those chosen

by them to witness the canoe

no one else will credit?


The relentless tide comes high

to claim me. I step back quickly,

remembering rumors of missing tourists

last seen swimming or surfing

before their sudden departure.

When I look up again,

the ghostly paddlers are gone.


“Oh well,” laughs the native guide

to whom I tell the tale,

“you probably had one too many

mai tais at the luau, didn’t you?” 

“One coconut milk,” I said, shaking my head.


“Well, then it has no explanation, 

unless you forgot your sunglasses.”


Author’s Note –

My introduction to Hawaii came as a child listening to “Hawaii Calling,” a radio program that offered a mix of lively hulas and plaintive love songs with the sound of waves breaking on shore and friendly chatter about the pleasures of the Islands. I Indulged the fantasy of being there, but since the Islands were 2,400 miles away and my family’s idea of travel was Sacramento, I never imagined actually setting foot on the sands of an Hawaiian beach, getting a song from Hilo Hattie, or joining the crowd on Kalakaua Avenue. 

Many years later I realized my childhood dream with my wife and three daughters. Thanks to a friend who offered us her modest condo on the south shore of Kauai, we became enthusiastic malahinis (newcomers) breakfasting each morning on coconuts, exploring the island and finding the real Hawaii off the tourist trail. I hope this summer or a later one will allow us to return to the islands. I’d like nothing better than to hit the beach, get my toes wet, catch a wave that won’t knock me flat, and watch the Hawaiian palms catch a tropical breeze. Please pass the sunblock and see if you can find a ukulele so I can remember how Elvis shook it up in “Rock-A-Hula Baby.” That was more than sixty years ago, but Hawaii is forever.

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