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emily benton / two poems


Sundays I tend to my hanging plants

and wipe the melamine bowls

but once these tasks were too much

I let dust cast herself over each surface

and bury all fingerprints

for weeks I forgot to fear what cannot be seen

what roots behind armchairs and walls

I kept the curtains open out of necessity

until late one summer evening

the house unveiled itself in a winged swarm

and I too drifted from room-to-room

like a ghost unaware of my choices



When they land, anoint them with lei

of tuberose blossoms,

handle their luggage

with the care of neatly-packed

expectations jetlagged

across an ocean to see you.

They’re in your hands now,

so hula-boola them through midtown

traffic, navigating lanes

like the smooth frets

of the slack-key radio.

Take the scenic route:

swing by the historic palace,

pausing for a photo

at the king’s statue, 

then guide them through

the lobbies of trade book imaginations—

Tip the valet, tip the bellboy!—

and make toasts to pink sunsets

queued like a backdrop

to their mai tai portraits.

Rise again to show them

the city of luxury imports—that silk road

of endless summer shopping 

as you glide by Ala Wai canoes,

gridlocked condo construction,

and tent villages that confuse

their ideas of progress.

Resurrect your spirit once again 

at a Chinatown bar well-stocked

with foreign/domestic taps

while they search for newfound discoveries:

tiki icons, paper lanterns, a waving lucky cat.

And when they finally ask

for something local, be ready with poi

and liquid-smoked pig.

Let them kiss the crooning kahuna

on the Astroturf stage. Let them

mispronounce every street.

This is vacation, after all,

and they want it shelled, clean, and chill.

They’ve paid for it.

They’ve recited their mahalos.

For God’s sake,

give them some aloha.


Emily A. Benton is a poetry editor for storySouth and a former editor for The Greensboro Review and the University of Hawai‘i Press. Her poems have also appeared in journals such as ZYZZYVA, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Harpur Palate, and Southern Poetry Review. Raised in Tennessee and a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at UNC Greensboro, she lived and worked in Hawai‘i from 2012 to 2020. She and her partner, writer Spencer Kealamakia, now split their time between Georgia and the Big Island.

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