Paradise Zero

by Eric Paul Shaffer

Paradise, friends, is a joke played by poets
on patrons, the restless, and the gullible.
Paradise leaves nothing to be desired,
everything to the imagination. Paradise is
a hole in the head, in the heart, in the planet

where dreams emerge, molten, churning,
screaming into the sea in a vortex of steam
and floating fire. Paradise is the promise
the cons convince us to hope for, to long for,
to pray for, and to pay, pay, pay, pay, pay for.

In paradise, we scourge ourselves for living
without knowing why we do. We just can’t
see time in all that sand, not for a moment,
and even tides mean little more than rising
and falling. Everybody who’s anybody wants

to go or come to paradise, and we all want
them to come fast and go faster. The fine
pleasures of paradise do not pale. We never
tire of the sweet scents, savors, rainbows,
and we begin to dream the fire burning

through the earth beneath us burns for us.
Paradise is a place everyone wants to leave
everyone else behind, to become someone else
everyone envies. There’s no end to paradise,
but this place ain’t utopia. Paradise is better

off without us, yet we eagerly seek the place
as we clutch and claw, scramble and clamber
along our ever-awkward ways. Palm trees,
grass skirts, and twin trees of the knowledge
of this and that and eternal life or something

are here, where people people, so to speak,
the power, the glory, and the kingdom
that excludes everyone else before and after
us. Paradise is a golden rule that proves me
the exception, a citadel of slammed gates,

stone walls, and deified design, lacking
serpents and packed with fruits and nuts
from every last exotic land. Abandon all
hope, you who enter here, for hope, none
needs, reclining at ease on shaded shores.

Here is an eternity of sunshine, loud shouts
of praise, an arc of exaltation, and a light
and lofty air that parts as we pass, surrounds,
bounds, embraces and (yes) excepts us, even
as a nimbus does, or a halo’s empty heart.


Eric Paul Shaffer‘s Green Leaves: Selected & New Poems will be published in 2022. He is author of seven books of poetry, including Even Further West, A Million-Dollar Bill, Lāhaina Noon, and Portable Planet. More than 550 of his poems are published in reviews in America and eleven other countries. Shaffer teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at Honolulu Community College.

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