me he’d once stopped in midsermon when he heard some rare pink-billed parrotfinches chirping outside his church. He raced out, found the
birds, and returned to transform the parrotfinches into a fresh sermon.
How does Willy figure things out; how does he reconcile modern
evolutionary biology with God’s plan? How much sex do girls have on
this island, on any island? Do Tia and Cia love passionately? I wish tender ardor for them and for Katie and Stewart, the Dutch guys, Malama
and Dave, Andreas and the woman he might still find, and, retroactively, Stevenson and Fanny, Mead and her Samoan lover, if there was
a lover. “Nowhere,” Mead observed when she read the Kinsey Report,
“have I been able to find a single suggestion that sex is any fun.” Science
has its limits.
A cardinal myzomela couple alights on a shrub ten feet from me. I
listen for mooing. It’s easy here to forget my infirmities, to discover, in
unknowability, a calming, all-embracing acceptance. I might have dislocated a hip in a far worse place, such as Kadavu, up a steep flight of sixty
stairs, at a lodge accessible only by boat on an island without a stretcher,
much less an ambulance or hospital. There are worse places to spend
a week—high in the sky with birds, luxuriant fronds, ocean reaching
beyond the horizon. It’s easy to imagine I’ve escaped it all—the world’s
troubles, hunger, hopelessness, shameful inequalities, the fear and hatred in Trump’s America, the pitting of us against them. It’s harder here
to fix people into identities, all the shades and subtleties of Polynesia,
the unexpected languages and cross-island blends, a Texan married to a
Tongan. The Rock’s mother is Samoan. His father, wrestler “Soulman”
Rocky Johnson, is from a line of former slaves who settled in Nova Scotia, with a little Irish thrown in. In this confusion of categories, it’s easier
to believe in our commonality. Distinctions seem skin-deep. We wrestle,
we write, we doctor, we dance, we pray, we wander. Whatever we may
aspire to, we all aspire.
But my philosophical moods pass. Even here, race can’t be escaped.
In 1890 Fanny wrote in her diary, “Natives have said that the first sight of
white people is dreadful, as they look like corpses walking. . . . Certainly
we are not a nice color.” At the end of Stevenson’s “The Beach of Falesá,”
the narrator, a Scottish copra trader married to an island woman, ponders the future of his mixed-breed children: “There’s nobody thinks less
of half-castes than I do; but they’re mine, and about all I’ve got. I can’t
reconcile my mind to their taking up with Kanakas, and I’d like to know
where I’m to find the whites.” On her return home from Samoa, Mead