The Tourists

Coachella Valley Date Palms California 1940s


The plane unloads a rumpled herd, white skin,
And winter-sallowed eyes. They change their bills
From green to feather hues, then buy the beers,
Push back the dampened sleeves. Empurpled clouds
Obliterate the gleam of taxicab bodies.
The hotel’s across a thousand ruts of rain.

The next day’s sky seems brighter by the rain.
Stripped, they claim the beach, their oiled skin
In shades of pink, mahogany: raw bodies
Strewn above the tidal line. Low bills
Of hats obscure their eyes. Only when clouds
Curtain the sun do they look up from beers

And sweat-grimed paperbacks. Those bottled beers
Each hold a scuppered ship of lime. No rain
Today loiters in such delicate clouds;
They skim above, a gauzy patchwork skin
To the empty blue. Time moves. What once was Bill’s —
A baseball cap — is now his wife’s. All bodies

Are transferable here. It’s anybody’s
Deck-chair, corner of light, next round of beers.
Let the sunshine and the breeziness pay bills.
Let alcohol and disobedience reign.
Let them re-imagine the tone of their skin.
Let them understand the text of clouds.

Let them know the subtext of those clouds.
That a bath of aloe won’t heal their bodies,
A year in the dark won’t blanch that skin,
Hail Marys won’t erase the flock of beers,
And they will return to the land of rain
Where money trees will never dent the bills.

But they’ll recall the mangrove, and seven spoonbills
As pink as cotton candy against high clouds.
They’ll recall the rattle of palms, white rain
That pocks the sea, how the sea embodies
The lopsided moons, the glinting beers,
The pinholed nights, and its own emerald skin.

They’ll pay the bills and return to bodies
Unknowable as clouds. They’ll drink more beer
And rue the rain, and shed their tarnished skin.


Peter Swanson lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. He has recently published poetry in Slant Magazine, Lyric, Epoch, The Wisconsin Review, and Rattapallax.

First published in Measure, Volume 2 (2007)