Poem: A Make-Believe Nation

How can living in paradise be so hard?
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“So many islanders barely surviving beyond the frame of a tourist postcard. So many families bankrupted by the high cost of living in ‘paradise.’”

Photo by Cameron Kirby/Unsplash

I drive through the industrial neighborhood:

ocean blue tarps and colorful tents cluster

like a coral reef amongst a shipwreck of

shopping carts and bikes. This encampment

is one of many across Hawai‘i, the state

with the highest homeless rate in the nation.

So many islanders barely surviving beyond

the frame of a tourist postcard. So many

families bankrupted by the high cost

of living in “paradise.” I park in the nearby

lot of the Children’s Discovery Center,

then unbuckle my daughter from her car seat.

After I pay the admission fees, she pulls me

by the hand to her favorite area: a make-believe

town with a post office, clinic, library, theater,

television studio, grocery store, and classroom.

As she plays, I make-believe a nation where all

of this is a pure public good, non-rivalrous

and non-excludable. A nation where housing,

good government, and bread are no longer

privatized. A nation divested from the public

harms of border walls and military weapons.

When she tires, we return to our car. I drive,

more slowly, through the encampment. Soon,

without warning, real bulldozers, dump trucks,

cops, and the state workers will enforce laws

that ban sitting and lying in public spaces.

They will sweep these makeshift homes

and vulnerable citizens off the sidewalks,

where a girl is now playing in an inflatable,

plastic pool, surrounded by her parents.

She looks the same age as my daughter,

who has fallen asleep in her car seat,

as I dream of a future commons.