Matisse: Tahiti (1930)

If I were young again I would forego Tahiti and move to America to begin a new

life in New York, a city both human and classical in its geometric modernity,

as I have discovered much too late, on my passage to the Pacific.

Nonetheless I pay homage to the lovely Polynesian women and tour the scenery


I search out Gauguin’s son, Emile, living the life of a fisherman,

with no wish for European ways and a contentment unknown to his father.

They are filming a movie here, Taboo, and its directors, F.W. Murnau and Robert


invite me to live for a week in their camp on an idyllic cove

more lovely than any I have seen before.


Still I find myself eager to depart for the outer islands,

the far Tuamotos, eager to escape

Papeete with its film of dust and colonial snobbery.


For three years I have painted nothing at all.

I have abandoned my wife

on her sickbed to travel half-way around the globe in search of what—

jungle flowers, an exotic cast of light?

Why does my heart remain loyal to art alone?


My dearest Amélie, let me tell you about the Tuamotos: night is a wash of stars in

ash-blue ether,

dawn the rustle of trade winds, glitter of flying fish at the horizon.

Days, I swim in the lagoon amidst marvelous creatures of preposterous vividness,


seahorses, anemones, plumed aquatic ferns.


Imagine a life stripped clean of every artifice, nothing but a small house on white

sand amid coconut palms,

and all of it, everything, subordinated to those two vast, borderless fields of



the sky and the sea.


It would require a new medium to equal their purity,

and at this I age I doubt myself capable

of more than these sketches of tropical foliage, shapes and notations

toward a project I sense at the furthest horizon

of consciousness,


a voyage


to the outer islands within


the far Tuamotos of myself


moon-stroked atolls

across an endless gulf of molten gold





a voyage

undertaken without promise

of safe passage

or realistic hope

of return


Cambell McGrath is an American poet. He is the author of nine full-length collections of poetry, including Seven Notebooks (Ecco Press, 2008), Shannon: A Poem of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (Ecco Press, 2009), and In the Kingdom of the Sea Monkeys (Ecco Press, 2012). 



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