Eric Paul Shaffer is the author of five books of poetry, including Lahaina Noon and Portable Planet. His poems appear in Slate, Ploughshares, North American Review, and Threepenny Review. He received the 2002 Elliot Cades Award for Literature and a 2006 Ka Palapala Poíokela Book Award. He teaches at Honolulu Community College.
Upcountry Overlook: Kula, Maui
The ancient picnic table is a rotting wreck in rattling gray grass
stiff in the season of slow growing. Nothing greens here
without a gift of water. Weeks burn by, and the stalks grow only
gold in the glare. Behind me, the sun casts a slant of silver rays
through clouds, over fields of sugar cane, on the ridges
and gulches to the west. From above, a sifting of leaves
and dust of bark from the kiawe tree litters the boards. Motes spark
in the sun warming my back like the hand of an old friend
come early. No one else has ever seen this place this way,
this morning, this moment, nor will they again. The sun moves,
the clouds wander. When I raise my cup, the coffee is burred
with floating bits, a black deeper in the sudden light. I pitch
the last of the lukewarm brew over the grass and set down the mug.
Then, I see the scorpion, green as the tableís peeling paint,
a handspan from my fingers still looped through the cupís ring.
Bees hover and birds bounce through thick limbs overhead,
but a scorpionís poise reveals its presence. Maybe since I arrived
with pen, paper, and an eye for the view, itís been coiled there
like a threat, an accident awaiting the witless. All morning,
I gawked at the furrowed sea and sun-scored red slopes, attentive
to the distant and dramatic, but not to significant lives
close at hand, within reach, and indifferent to our slow recognition.
Praise for the Tortoise
Let us praise the tortoise,
whose rocky body is a sky-pitched vault,
whose arched legs are the scaly pillars
to transport the domed temple in which he lives,
whose eyes are piercing and resolute as winter stars,
whose rounded armor is studded with amber pyramids,
whose stride is constant,
whose pace is confidence,
whose poise is the majesty of ease,
whose grace is to grow into a globe,
whose persistence proves
envy and success pursue the persistent
for greatly different reasons.