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COPYRIGHT Poem-a-Day Collection by Knopf. Compilation copyright 2009 by Knopf. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Like Giving to a Blind Man Eyes
by Ruth Padel
He's standing in Elysium. Palm feathers, a green
dream of fountain against blue sky. Banana fronds, slack rubber rivulets, a canopy of waterproof tearstain over his head. Pods and racemes of tamarind. Follicle, pinnacle; whorl, bole and thorn.
'I expected a good deal. I had read Humboldt and was afraid of disappointment.' What if he'd stayed at home? 'How utterly vain such fear is, none can tell but those who have seen what I have today.' A small rock off Africa –
alone with his enchantment. So much and so unknown. Like taking a newborn baby in your arms. 'Not only the grace of forms and rich new colours: it's the numberless – & confusing – associations rushing on the mind!' He walks through hot damp air
and tastes it like the breath of earth, like blood. He is possessed by chlorophyll. By the calls of unknown birds. He wades into sea and scares an octopus. It puffs black hair at him, turns red – as hyacinth – and darts for cover. He sees it watching him. He's discovered
something wonderful! He tests it against coloured card and the sailors laugh. They know that girly blush! He feels a fool – but look, he's touched tropical Volcanic rock for the first time. And Coral on its native stone. 'Often at Edinburgh have I gazed at little pools
of water left by tide. From tiny Corals of our shores I pictured larger ones. Little did I know how exquisite, still less expect my hope of seeing them to come true. Never, in my wildest castles of the air, did I imagine this.' Lava must once have streamed on the sea-floor here,
baking shells to white hard rock. Then a subterranean force pushed everything up to make an island. Vegetation he's never seen, and every step a new surprise. 'New insects, fluttering about still newer flowers. It has been for me a glorious day, like giving to a blind man eyes.'
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