March 26, 2023

On Hearing the News of a Friend’s Death While in Honolulu, November 2019

by Benjamin Balthaser

The red hooded birds on this island city run  
in formation, like disciplined school children, boxed

on branches, scattered before the windshields of King St’s 
blue scooters.  Everything else is heat. The banks of the canal 

blaze into green.  The sky darkens like wool under water.
There are so many possible bridges on an island, all 

that unravel into fog.  We are not gods, even if
we can make infinities with language. We are now 

a year into this season of death.  I won’t lie, 
there is nothing else I can think about. What I have to say 

as impossible as the future:  whiskey that rises like a moon 
into a crystal bay, your voice when quoting your favorite poet, 

how cold is not just the absence of heat, but another country
of weight, the way, at 5 below, the delicate origami of ice 

against the kitchen window tells of the darkness beyond. 

The gray military bulk of a cruiser curves the red line 
of the horizon:  there are no other fields for meaning.

The broken, untended streets, the honeyed slush 
of a hundred accents scenting English 

all insist, afterall, this place is made for pleasure. 
I drink iced coffee, listen to the static hiss of the ocean

beyond a line of breadfruit trees blurring into shade.

The city I actually live in is nothing but winter.  I am in love
with its lack of contrasts, with its certainty, with the limited 

but clear ethics of saying goodbye, when losing still felt 
small enough to hold like a drink, or the white migraine of an empty page.