On the Island of Pohnpei


A Dramatic Monologue

Been to the ruins, have you? Not yet? I can tell
you’re one of those scholarly types. Deep.
I like a firm handshake. New Englanders
come from that Innsmouth place a lot —
limp, clammy handshakes is all you get
from one of them. I know their ways and signs
and can pass when I have to. Just slouch
and tie a scarf around your neck. Feel sorry
when I see their kids, all handsome-like,
until they grow into that “ancestral look.”
Still, there are homelier types around here.

You look more Boston to me, averse
as you seem to be to sunlight. I see the way
you pick your table, one beam of light
on that book you always carry, the rest of you
in shadow. If I painted any more
that would make a fine study. So, Harvard,
is it? you on one of those expeditions?
No, never seen anyone from Arkham before.
Miska — Miskatonic, you say? Can’t say I ever
heard of it, though we’ve had scholarly types
who wouldn’t say where they’re from
and what they’re doing. Sometimes they unload
crate after crate from the cargo ship
then hole up back and above the ruins.
Good pickings for scavengers, too, since
more than half of those fellows disappeared. Sink holes,
you see — they have a way of opening up
when you least expect it. Beneath those ruins,
no one can guess how far down it can go.
Funny thing is, there are tunnels down there
that go deep below the ocean, yet dry
as a Baptist on a blue Sunday.

A lot of those other scholars go sun-mad
or catch some funny diseases from the village girls.
One old professor, philologist I think,
said he would never sleep again,
so he razored off his eyelids. He’s off
in the madhouse in Wellington. Thank you, yes,
I do know just about everybody. Used to be
you could count the white folk on two hands.

Now with the hippies and the Lovecraft tourists,
this place is getting too crowded for me.
I’ve done a museum’s worth of paintings
in those ruins, and did a lot of diving
in my younger days. There’s more of those ruins
under the water than above, you know.
Those — what do you learned folk call them —
Encylco — Yes, “Cyclopean” — that’s the word
I was searching for. Funny thing is that out there
and down below, it goes so deep you could swear
it was never above water, not for a day,
so how could these Polynesians have built it?

I sold a lot of painting to visitors — the ruins,
a little wildlife, sometimes I’d get a village girl
or some boys to pose for me, very classical.
Nowadays they come and ask for tentacles.
They want that god (I’m not going to say his
name), dragging his squid face over the landscape.
I want to spit every time I hear “R’lyeh!”
Seeing as you’re not one of the hippies,
I’d be happy to take you to the ruins. Easy
it is to lose your way, and as I said,
there are places that fall away. You might
even find the skeleton of one of your own professors,
ha! Just joking! You don’t need to look that way.
Fact is, I want to get off this island.
A chance at a gallery in Sydney, fancy
I’d finally get to see Hong Kong or Thailand.

It’s the hippies, you see, these last two years,
since the stuff they call “trans-heroin” arrived.
Nepal is practically empty and the Afghanis
are mad as hell that some unknown white powder
has pushed all other drugs aside. Now Pohnpei
is the Haight-Ashbury of the South Pacific.
They’re building hostels on the beach.
Three Lebanese, ah, shall I call them
“businessmen,” and some Russians, shall I call them
“silent partners,” have set up a dance club there —
see the smoke? — not twenty yards from the ruins.
Since you’re a scholar, and I can trust you,
I’ll let you in on the secret: the white powder
comes from here, from fabled R’lyeh, Pohnpei Island.

Take it just once, and all you want to do is sleep,
and in that sleep — my god, what they tell me!
Those so-called gentle hippies. One sat there,
right where you’re sitting, and boasted to me,
“Last night, in my dream, I killed a thousand men.
The powder wore off before I could finish eating them.”
At first, it came from divers, not bringing up pearls,
but caked-up minerals from an outcrop,
a crazy place where those ancient stones
had fallen into something and the white
stuff, over many centuries, extruded outward.
But now the Lebanese, on the ploy of laying
a cement foundation for their nightclub
jack-hammered their way down to the vein,
the mother lode of chalk-like powder.
The Russians watch everything, sit down below
in what they call “The Kitchen,” Kalashnikovs
at the ready. There goes the neighborhood.
I have to listen to the thump-thump-a-thump
of the living dead zombie dance music
some nights till three in the morning.
There’s a neon sign, oh, you’ll see it
with tacky Hawaiian lettering, that reads
LOUNGE  R’LYEH — HOOKAH  ALL  NIGHT.

Inside, the hookah pipes emerge
from the floor below, where, in the “kitchen,”
three idiot village girls tend to the charcoal
burner, the bubbling cauldron of water.
The tubes run upward and through the floor,
right to the hookah tables. And they sit,
and they sit, and they sit. The waiters
empty their pockets. Dawn comes,
and the smokers awaken outside, piled
in a heap on top of one another. They smile.
They don’t even care that they’ve been robbed.
Each night at dusk there are more of them,
pressing against the bamboo enclosure,
waiting for the neon sign to come on.

You look agitated, professor. I guess
you didn’t realize what kind of place
you’ve come to for your holiday. All right:
for your research, your serious research. It’s fine,
I guess, to spend your days afield.
The ruins, yes, the ruins are beautiful.
You just don’t want to be here at night.
Did I mention the suicides? The beach,
when the tide comes in, is not so wholesome.
Drug tourists must, of necessity, exhaust
their bank accounts, and so they hope to join
the ranks of those who never awaken.
The Russians remove the bodies by noon.
Bad for business, you see.
Sooner or later they’ll just export the stuff.
They’ll close the lounge. Instead, a kind
of factory will sit there, extracting and packaging.

Oh, you’re a wry one. What’s that you said?
“Unless what’s down below awakens.”
Don’t tell me you’re one of those Believers
in that thing whose name I won’t pronounce.
All right, all right, let go of me! I’ll say it:
Cthulhu, Cthulhu, Cthulhu, damn you!
I’ve read Lovecraft, okay? Look, I’m a realist.
My paintings look like photos. There’s nothing
here, nothing whatever. Yes, yes, I follow.
They’re what? No, don’t make me think that,
don’t make me say that. You’re hurting me!
Fine! Just calm down now. I heard you.
I wish I hadn’t heard you.
Damn you intellectuals, connecting everything.
They’re ... smoking ... the ...brains ... of ... Cthulhu.

Written for H. P. Lovecraft’s Birthday Celebration
Providence, Rhode Island, Swan Point Cemetery
August 19, 2012



Comments

Popular Posts