Painting Your Own Private Malibu


In my last post, I talked about the magic of trains, how they can serve as metaphors for not only romance and adventure, but escape and renewal. In this post, I give you the poor man’s train: his brain.

Who needs an engine when the tireless brain can get you there? It has a habit, doesn’t it, of imagining a place called “Better” and sometimes the town one over, “Better Yet.”

As individuals, we all know places that are more than happy to play the role of Paradise on Earth. Sometimes it is a place we have actually visited. Other times it is a place we’ve read about or seen on television. Does the brain care? It is to laugh! Daydreaming brains specialize in not caring.

Here’s a concrete example. For the poet Mary K. Stillwell, the answer to her troubles is found on the California coast. It is a town called Malibu, one we’ve all heard of and one that seems particularly well-suited to serve as an engine of desire. Exempli gratia:


Moving to Malibu
by Mary K. Stillwell

Some nights I think of it,
moving to Malibu, just as I stretch,
like a cat stretches, to my full length,
as though I am easing into cool waters.
I imagine the blue of the sea;
the bright green leaves of the geranium
on the patio, the bright pink blooms,
the yellow sun and white sand,
in the distance, white triangles,
from the deck, wind chimes.
I will be as content and as happy
as Balboa. I will have breakfast
at my wicker table and in my wicker chair,
with the cats watching. I will taste
salt on my lips after coffee.
My door will be open. When you come,
you will carry a loaf of bread,
a bunch of flowers. The sunset
is brilliant; we might as well be anywhere.


If you’re going to write about a dream destination that will change your life to storybook, bring your palette of colors (notice here the “blue of the sea,” the “bright green leaves of the geranium / on the patio, the bright pink blooms, the yellow sun and white sand” and, “in the distance, white triangles.”

Sensory details, too, please (“from the deck, wind chimes”). A simile never hurts, and here Stillwell is “as happy / as Balboa,” the guy who trekked across Panama, climbed a tree, and cried, “Ocean, ho!” (Pacific, that is. Supposedly calmer than its wicked sister of the east, the Atlantic.)

Reveries are personal, as you can see. Here the speaker’s is populated with wicker and cats, two things I’d give a wide berth to while negotiating a dream existence. But she does not fail to remember the other. The welcome visitor. The love interest. The one how will “carry a loaf of bread, / a bunch of flowers” to enhance the happiness by sharing it.

Once you pencil in “the one” (whether you already have one or not—this is your poem, after all), the picture is complete, for we are nothing if not social animals, and no paradise is worth its chlorophyll in fig leafs if you do not have a lover to walk it with.

Just ask Adam and Eve. They might have taken a wrecking ball to their Garden of Malibu, but at least they had each other.

And one last sunset, too. I hear it was brilliant.