“If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.”
— Psalm 139
That long green swell that sears my eyes
As I drowse on this bed of black stones,
Is it the Irish coast rising in the dawn
Beyond the brushed silver of my cowling
Where, throughout the night, I trusted
Not in some desert God’s directions,
But like all fools who dreamed my flight
In the calibrated compasses of man?
That rushing sound, is it the crowd at Le Bourget,
Swarming past the barriers and lights
To scavenge my Spirit; to lift me up
Into the air that only heroes breathe?
Or is it the age-old sigh of sea on stones,
Known to those who pace the shingle
And the swirled black sands that wrap
These impossible islands in a shawl of waves?
That painting daubed on the chapel’s window —
Not the roselined mandala at Chartres
Where flame in glass misprisoned sings —
But a cruder Savior, bearded, browned, and popular;
An icon obtainable to plain sight, a trim God
Limned flat upon the glass in dull gesso,
And, when light moves behind it, looking down….
Is this the sign in which, at last, we conquer?
Conquer? I’d laugh the laugh of stones
Had I but eyes to see and lips to breathe.
No, I am content with my reduced cathedral
Here above the ocean where man and apes
Together waltzing lie, having done at last
With all horizons, having done at last with sky.
If you would see me now pass by
The small green church where ancient banyans
Bloom with shade and guard
The tower and the bell which you
May toll for you or me, or other souls
Not yet delivered to the stars and sea.
And then, retreating, mark the tree
Whose tendriled branches hold but air,
And shadow both the church and stones
Beneath which wait both apes and men
Who, foolish with their hunger for the air,
Swung branch to branch up all the eons
And, letting go at last, they learned —
Through my night’s leap — to rise.
Sea, stone, tree, ape and Savior:
These now my long companions are.
Better here, I think, in this dank green
Cartoon of Paradise, this slight-of-hand Eden;
Better here beneath the pumice stones
Where strangers drop a wreath a year.
Better in here deep than out there wide —
Hovering over the pillaring waves alone,
Suspended between the old world and the new,
Trusting in man’s compass to guide me home;
Descending down the sharp cold blade of dawn.
Better, much better, in here at last to wait
In here where the shawl of the waves below
Enfolds that fire they could never snare.
— At the Palapala Ho’omau Church, Hana, Maui
Composed and photographs taken on site. Hana, 2003