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Manoa 15.1 (2003) 152-153

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Immigrant Parable:
Hong Kong Orchid Tree, Arguments

Ricardo Pau-llosa

for Ann Rose

Things stand outside our door, themselves by themselves, neither knowing nor reporting anything about themselves. What then does report about them? The governing self.



Like most trees that spend
their gorgeous efforts
on flowering, these have bitten
leaves and stripped twigs
that cling to branches and whip,
and mold-embroidered trunks.
They rise above perennial beds
of seedless refuse where vermin thrive
until the wind scatters the dead rattling.
It lifts the sunless dirt that haloed
the roots where once grass sprung.
How unnatural, too, these trees,
foreign and dragged onto this soil
to decorate at first, but soon to crowd
flora millennial weathers had tuned
like invisible violins. How they bully
the canopies, tangle the phone lines
and refuse to feed the venerable jay
and the citizen oriole.
Even their blooms are like the orchid
but cannot root in air and moisture
nor hold the branches harmless,
nor perfume the shade with hormonal fevers. [End Page 152]
Behold how orchids paint their borrowed corners
with strokes of lust, but how these lumberings
breach sidewalk and plumbing
and will not a single true orchid host.
I doubt it is by nature's law—
more the force that keeps the real
from the imagined, and both from the mask.


It sturdied the wilting ground and shaded
the fly-strewn air. It spread in exponents
like a rhyme foretold by its doubling leaves,
and so it breathed geometry and pinned
its violet petals where only grasses grew,
the spiked palmetto, and the bleeding sandspur.
Unlike the melaleuca, it left untouched
water's balancing of earth and did not forget
the riding lessons of the typhoon.
Observe the more abundant bee and hummingbird,
the plentiful jars that grace the humblest sills,
the lovers who gather its sighs, and the oils
that emblem the painted tree for the place.
It bore beauty and magnitude onto a flat
murky plain and it unveiled
the languid shapely orchid where none here bloomed.
All its splendid brethren too are new—
hibiscus and heliconia, bougainvillea and bamboo.
It vies with araguaney for the bannering joys
but slips into half-naked sleep when poinciana
bursts into annual flame. It braves the fungus
and the termite and the saw. It knows its function
is to become the object of admired mistrust.


Ricardo Pau-Llosa has written five books of poetry. His latest, The Mastery Impulse, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press (2003).



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pp. 152-153
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