William Jay Smith

1918 / Louisiana, USA

The Garden

I knew that I had arrived in paradise:
The island was a garden but not a garden like Eden
with one terrace above another, reaching so high
that no deluge could ever touch it.
No, this was a Persian garden walled in by ocean;
from the edge of the lagoon, I stepped into a rainbow,
an ever-expanding universe of water flowers swirling in all directions.

The island possessed what the Hopi Indians claimed
were the prerequisites for paradise: water, hills, and trees.
The water announced itself at once: a clear pool shaded
by the tidal ripples dappling its surface,
clusters of shimmering purple coral stalks
rising from the bottom of the lagoon
each ending in a tiny golden ear of corn,
a kernel shielding a living creature inside.

The water was everywhere, but where were the hills?
Impossible to see them if I looked up not down.
I stood on the greenest hills imaginable—
the coral-encrusted rim of an extinct volcano
resting on the ocean floor,
so gazing down into the water I gazed
on the great green hills from which I had come.

And the trees? Perched on the coral rim was a narrow line
of palm trees and tropical shrubbery that formed a feathered crown
around the lagoon, and with the feathered crown, the birds,
nesting along the coral, hundreds of booby birds,
as clumsy as clowns until they rose majestically into the air,
air that elsewhere was adrift with flocks of white and sooty terns,
a skein unwound in the breeze that swept up from the sea
to relieve the equatorial heat that beat down incessantly.

Clouds would gather along the island's feathered crown
and the light rain that fell several times a day
became a bead-curtain I thrust aside
to peer into a blue-green, rainbow-edged world.
And I knew when I did that I had come to an earthly paradise,
caught outside of time, constantly refreshed and reforming.
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