ISSN 1545-2859





On the Island of Bones


For the wound did not begin with us:

my left temple throbs

the first Europeans found this island scattered with bones–

as if a scavenger bird
had sat on my shoulder, all night,

Cayo de hueso,

to eat its way into the most intimate spaces

connected to the continent by a ligature of reef,

of my self, its claws so grasping

a siren shore to those explorers–their desire and their fear–

(though I could call it my harpy husband), into the interstices of my muscles,

full of the enchantments of erasure,

that I seem the bruise
of his insistence,

so many shreds and wounds of meaning.

that I can barely look
through the white sheer panel that veils
the sea

“the poet
looks at the world as a man looks at a woman,”

round eye, round island,

and so they found the shining mirror of the sea

I look at the ocean as if I were

by following the lines they’d memorized

as if I were
as if I existed, as if I am

the word cayo altering on many lips

and so my fingers are as gentle and as hesitant

into a word that in another language

as if I touched the wound in you

sounded like the word for key

swimming into the blue of the water, the body of the world

o mastery, of signs of doors of maps—and made the world

and something within me

into a graveyard

rising from dead—

where once was paradise.

o yes, it’s paradise!

For, yes, I think that form inflicts a kind of violence,
perhaps the repetitive step of the iamb, that girl (I am)
for whom it was named in every Greek tragedy,

the one whose cry interrupts everything,

enchanted, or in pain,

was caused by the shackles upon her shins,

O I remember those women waiting outside
the gate of the Alhambra (always waiting outside
the gates) to capture me with the weight
of a sprig of rosemary they placed upon my open palm

though perhaps the apologists are right (I don’t
think so) and she wore nothing but the light gold chain
of privilege.

as if to captivate with intricate green, o verde
te quiero verde, my walking through the world
a drowsy somnabulist, full of the almond dust of Granada.

Perhaps there was no other way for her
to move, and what we call order is a wounding,
like hobbled horses in a meadow, a dragonfly tied
upon a string, for I am thinking, the body of the ocean

Yet, you could not know
when you sent me this charm of the gypsies,
how I would cast it, I could stand in the light of any
candle and say to any you—

outside my room is so fluidly and chaotically
beautiful, the light so random and impending,

warmth of heart and passion fire, to be blessed
by the heavens is our desire—

that I feel nothing can correspond to it except
except my feeling for you,

though it would always be I,
full of the crushed petals of a red rose, its leaves
like drops of blood my slightly cut finger left upon the floor.

for depth and subtlety
of feeling, and how one ever write the idea of order ?

Oh, they wanted me to cross their palms with silver
and have my fortune read,

It’s like thinking of the anchorite’s penance
or the flagellant’s whip, while daydreaming
in the arms of the beloved.

A clay heart, a spell of fire, a feather,
and a taste of the magick potion
like salt upon the tongue.

O beloved, I keep thinking
some other idea is needed, I keep waking to the impossible

A talisman of terra cotta, a child’s toy, a game,
incised with a symbol
that is one shape or is two:

hour, at the very moment, the dark body of the night
begins to fill with impending light,

inverted cross that rises out of an x
but, viewed if framed by the heart shape,
an x rooted in the earth

when the depths
are no longer mistaken for the cold compression,
the vacuity that we have made them, and the I,
having adjusted to the shades of its absence,

and flaring out of its rising stem
could be a child’s depiction of a flower,

as the eye adjusts to the presences of darkness
begins to perceive the phosphorescent and transparent forms
of the fish that thrive within the depths,

for the spell you sent me is the spell already cast

the tubes of volcanic steam
surrounded by the waving meadow of sea worms,
the brain coral in its green electric halo that seems to think
in bodily terms, so that its many creatures form one green continuous thread,
a kind of unraveling nimbus, and each creature is so rarely formed,
that I marvel at it as if it were the unique body of the beloved,
o you, it’s only you, that freckle on your arm, each creature bearing
its own light upon its head, a hook, a lantern, a shimmering veil,

With the innocence of sharks resting together
in the waters, if I sat in the dark and watched the water
move, I could not write these words
which abide in the dark and watch
the water move, you who are evening,
you are dusk, you who are every hour,
singing to me in some constant or inconstant tone,

for I want nothing but this world, the round eye of the moon
looks to me as if it were sick of all the stories it has been made to bear,
and the seabirds which dive and arc over the water each morning are silent, though they make of themselves a weaving, whatever sound they make is the sound of wind, the sound of wave, we try to cast a spell upon the world, I think, so seriously with our desire, create an order and a form,

Who could sail these waters, so resplendent
with sun and blue, the lightness of these breezes
and land upon this shore of serrated leaf
and black ringed dove and plant a cross and a gallows,
stark shadow of an imposition, two shapes of order
and inquisition, and architect the shadow of what we mistake
for passio upon the living mangrove islands where the nurse sharks
lie in basking herds, their brown and blond lengths coiled in ease
in the blue shallows, a nestling of shape and length, where the trees
themselves are so many rooted, extending into coral, each rootlet
finding the way in, and so entwined, that in their knotted hands,
the land itself is caught, all the dust blown by the wind, debris
of leaves and scattered shell, and so the earth takes form in that embrace,
so multicelled and polyformed, that the coral glows with the electricity
of its own being and wears the veils once attributed to the divine body
of the goddess, the veil that draped the rioting hair of the woman saint
so she could enter church and not disturb those praying with
the protean quality of her hair or thought, and the anemones in their long
and jointless swaying seem part grass, part wind, o your hair, your fingers,
so swaying back and forth through the currents, that being seems
to caress itself, while outside the most expensive window a plastic heron
with its open crook of neck planted on the top of some beach house
has replaced the gallows and the pontifical knob at the top of the beach
umbrella, its rounded sceptre above the collappased (yes, I’ve misspelled
that but leave it, let language bear its own ruin) green width of the parasol
has replaced the shadow of the cross, its implication of miter, and the gun ship
that goes by full of tourists, its guns blank, though out there beyond
our sight, we know the actual vessel of war cruises, watching the
borders etched in the waves, carrying its red crosses
and guns full of live ammunition

he said that he thought his poem was about a kind of colonization of the mind
but when he went past and cast his look like a net upon the tall blond woman I was talking to, someone else’s wife who looked like his wife, I understood that he did not mind the other forms of colonization, that he was speaking as a man who had been deprived of the prerogatives of men, all that European pride in a history that pained him, how he’d gone back again and again to Italy trying to resist its seducation (another typo, how the mind so combines sex and education, ha), it was really sort of laborious, he had no breath with which to read, someone had said earlier that writing poetry was like flying through concrete but I had the feeling I was watching a man turn into a monument of himself, cell by self the aggregation of authority and celebrity, until there would be a sun-basted statue with his name upon it in some Caribbean square, ponderous with the details of the tourist, and came alive when it stirred for a moment with something like anger, and afterward, a child said that he had learned one thing about poetry that day and that it was a poem should not be too long

They were so lovely, so generous
arriving in their canoes to weight
us down with fruits and flowers
and the sweet warmth of themselves

and I knew by this they would be fit
for servitude, so sweetly obedient
they already were, even to the gentlest breezes
of their paradise, that they

did bend and sway, like the
anemones who in those shallow
depths do swirl and move, opening and closing
like the hands of women, caught in another’s tide,

angels, they seemed, in kindness, but bodily enough,
being no more than human,
their qualities of being angelic so
marked them out for laboring

that it seemed to me, those first manacles
were but the bracelets to anchor
them to this earth, which we must
make groan with our sweat and our discipline

of gold and emeralds and all the
salts and spices that alone can make
life palatable to us, its penance become
many piercing flavors expiring on an exhausted tongue,

and so I leashed them, as once in my native country,
when I was a boy, I tied great-eyed iridescent
dragonflies to filaments of
string and watched them fly

back and forth, all morning,
while my mother’s laundry dried
on the line, until their wings
tore off as their hearts failed

I thought the heron, its neck crooked
so that the beak angeled (I meant to say angled),
at forty five degrees into the air, as if the air
were water, as if all being were an ocean
where the heron fished, was real. But it was
part of the plastic frame, architecture of the I, so that the Atlantic
blued by the sun would be caught in the angle of its motionless neck,
so do we try and still the world, to make it rest, of lyrick
and obey, thinking that it floats like water upon the eye of God,
and try to find in ourselves some equivalent moment
of beauty and the motionless, and mistake it for what
we call peace. Yet we make a corpse of world and self,
banish real herons and bring in their disposable replicas
and placeable signs, and then try to benedict the corpse
back into breathing. When I looked further, I saw the man
who had been standing on the concrete dock looking into the water,
I’d mistaken him for a homeless guy, was not alone. I had been wrong
from the beginning. Another man was in the ocean, beneath the framework of the dark, at work upon something, in his t-shirt and jeans, I knew he probably floated
in some raft or skiff bobbing there to reach the dock’s
underside. From my vantage,
it seemed he had stepped into the water,
his arms thickened at the forehead reaching with great effort
up to the dock, the underbelly of the world, a ceiling
that pinned him in a world of waves and tossed and moved him ,
so ceaselessly moving in the ceaseless water.

So the evolutionary poet is rare. In actuality, it seems to me, many of my contemporaries are niche exploiters, each one attaching itself to some crevice of the reef to make a feast of whatever predictable scrap always drifts it way. At dinner, thinking this, I became too feral, I think, in some conversation, I said something to the effect that no matter how complicated my view, I always read a poem as if it were a matter of life and death, that I was usually disappointed, that the evolutionary poet was rare, and whatever it was I said, for I cannot remember all of it, it made one woman go off and burst into tears and made the other attending poet disappear and go off into another corner and begin another conversation as firefighters might light a backfire to try and stop the forest fire that threatens to consume a picturesque town in the mountains. Later on, this same poet came back and suggested that I was drunk, so I laughed, and said, no, at this stage of my life, I didn’t need to drink to be intoxicated. Doesn’t anyone notice that the great poet here is simply a stricken bird? Though his missing teeth, the gap of his smile that suggests a twisted beak makes me feel better about him: all poets should have a touch of the monstrous. But he is only celebrity, not that rare.one who can barely breathe between the land and the sea, who moves not knowing if fins are fins or wings or hand, who find these selves, who can she be who is herself and her own muse, who can she be but you, so easily confused in all her fluid swelling with the murk and mud of being?

In absolute statements
poetry perishes

Empathetic imagination
when required
makes one fill up with the dead

The distinguished hand
is frigid
as if it were the hand of a corpse
dreaded (dredged!)
up from the sea water

Full of nothing
but the minutes/minutia
of itself
the typewriter on which one begins writing
gives one the feeling of being instantly published

Ah, it’s the feral
that interests me, the animals
in the room, like the feral cat
and chicken in every café

that poet, for instance,
who has the eye
of a living possum
caught in the shine of a flashlight
in the branches of a tree
on the remotest hill
of an Arkansas back road.

Any paradise becomes too quickly swindled
and expensive, so when his charge card machine
doesn’t work, and I have no cash with which to pay
him, the British guy at the internet café begins
to endure a kind of torment between his desire
to trust me, his need to be paid, and his fear
that I’ll stiff him out of the seventeen dollars
that I owe him just for talking, and his fear becomes
a grey upon his face, some color of reluctance
in which his faith in another tries to rise, though
there’s no help for it, since I have no money I can give,
so it’s hopelessness that he gives into, having no choice
but to trust is not a choice to trust. Perhaps he senses
in himself, the way in which I’m lying, for I do have
a twenty in my pocket, though it’s all my son and I
have to eat on for the next two days, until the money
I’ve been expecting finally arrives, and perhaps
it’s some deeper current between us, some way of knowing
what he cannot know, that makes it more difficult
for him to trust me. So when I come back in the next day,
new money having arrived, he’s sitting outside on break
in the lounge chair, in a drift of dreams between customers
and when he sees me coming back to pay, o how he smiles,
o love, he calls out to me, as if this paradise, real estated
and pirated into limbo, were paradise again, though
in a different way, for being merely human, for all our faltering
and our lies, some hovering shape in the air around us,
our selves opening, as if we were free

snaggly toothed guy who plays songs
requested on his violin,

guy who sprays paints
himself in warship grey and stands motionless on a corner,

young girl who paints a plate with a place name, the obligatory
palm tree and wave of water,

middle-aged fatso who’ll tell
a dirty joke for 50 cents,

ex-hippie who has a parrot riding on his
dog’s back while the dog wears sunglasses,

young woman, her face fainted white and fluttering
dress and feathers of a Victorian angel in elaborate

pleading to heaven, scraping gratitude,
the amount of money dropped into a tin, it’s all the racket
of teeth chattering together,

show time for those couples who come down the gangplanks
of the cruise ships like lumbering animal couples of an ark gone wrong,
filled with replicas of the same species--hippopotami, shrewd

so when the boy sitting on the curb shouts to the sleep walking couples
who clot up the sidewalk with the maneuvering of their rumps
and those whose eyes are fixed on some invisible
and distant horizon by all that they have drunk, he cries out

we don’t want anything, we have what we need

and he means by this the sandwich that his hands are still full of,
its brown bread and overflowing lettuce and turkey, as if it were the plenty
of the earth itself, a kind of cornucopia,

we don’t want your money, all we want is a little acknowledgment here

I look at him and smile and say hello and ask how he is
he says fine, how about you, our eyes
so fixed upon each other, until the drift bears me away,

how are you, how are you, how are you

In land’s end bight
all the ships were tied,
the replicas of sailing ships,
the turtle kraal
had no living turtles but
only images of extinction
and only one very small living turtle,
a female with an injured fin, floating in the rescue tank
just inside the door, and outside, the ocean too
full of junk, the scattering
of sea weed like burnt straw upon the water,
a dead pelican, its head folded into water, and
a small moon jellyfish which at first
I took for a plastic bag and then
recognized as dead, but then my son
threw a pebble into the water, and at the sound
of approaching threat, the jellyfish pulsed
and began filling itself up with water
contracting frantically to get away,
so hard for a creature, made of water,
to make a way through water, for its way
was everywhere, and I thought as it pulsed
and quieted, letting itself relax back into
its drifting, that it moved with the muscular contractions
of the human heart that but drifts and is taken and pauses and stops
and can only open or close

as a dream that lapped as the water does
at the labia of every form

for what is it,
should I say it’s the muse, for all that it brings me
is the page trembling upon that pirate chest
which has been turned into a piece of decorative furniture
in this expensive room, a page torn between the wind
that lifts the white skin like a wing and the force of gravity which
makes it press against the surface of whatever
it rests upon, or perhaps more realistically it is the phantom
of my own desire that shapes out of nothing but its dreaming self
and nerve endings, all the cells opening to the night as the anemones
open to the water, caught in the longing for what they are not,
for in that sense, every Helen is a phantom, dreaming in her Egypt,
and if so, why call it you, why not give it the more easily defined
shape of the body dancing on that corner or the one who
will show me her breasts though I do not want her to, or the one who
says laughing my eyes are like chispas, those sparks
the rise into the air though they are full of fire, as if embers
might take flight, and yet it is you and your words that wake me,
not in your voice, for I don’t know what your voice sounds like,
and so cannot hear it, even in a dream, it was just the words themselves
that were embodied, a kind of presence with gravity, and subtlety
of feeling, the wind, the weight, I don’t know how, and so it’s odd
how I wake up as if you had just spoken to me, the dark of night
beginning to fill with the impending light, just where and how
do I live, what is the location of the soul, and does it
ever have an ordinary address, for I am no one’s, if I am not
yours, for it seems to me, when your dreaming body lies in my dreaming
arms that I held you, what is most truly you, that body which the Tibetans
believe walks out of the corpse after death and goes on craving
cigars and candy, it seems to me so you that I could believe you dreamt
your way to me as I was dreaming you.

O, please, give me a break, the truth is, o phantom, form of the uncanny, the correspondence of word and tongue, the silken form in all the depths, that serpent’s labyrinth of being, I’m sitting here listening to the song of how I am amazed, but the truth is you were in the next room, I’d be rushing into you, perhaps slowly as a fish snagged by the hooks of its own desire, being reeled in by myself, but rushing into you, like the breath breathing from my lungs, I could not not this minute touch you, I could not not kiss you, I could not not have my fingers in you, I could not not be this vunerability of you or me, the world itself would fall to the floor like the last article of clothing, there’s no heaven I would not give up to enter you, I could could not touch the tips of my wings, my fingers, my tongue, my nose, to the tips of your tongue, your fingers, your eyes, your nose, your, I could not not be, could not not be yours, could not not be

how can the body remember what it does not know?
what phantom wakes me at night to the unknown
feeling of your body, my chin tucked into your neck,
my hand cupping your breast, a dove dreaming in my dreamt hand,

so that I wake to this real room, where, while I slept,
a drift of turning fan and rising wind has turned my notebook
to a blank page, that restless flutters up on its spine,
vibrando, with its white space, its blue lines,

as if with love, as if to rise,
trembling with the note there, as if in some phantom embrance
( I meant to write only “embrace” but let the word
remember) it felt the sea surging beyond the window,

it black rhythm rushing around the shores
to which it is bound, as if the ocean were that ancient river,
a phantom nestling against the back of the earth,
a serpent of desire encircling the world

why do these gestures inhabit us?
why did I wake up thinking of my tongue running
like a quick snail along your side, that side
that if you were a creature made of water

would be your doral side, if people were fish,
from hip to arm, so that I could taste the light
saltiness of you, as if the dream brought to me
the faint flavor of all the ocean outside my window,

caught in the salt of your most distant molecule
on my most distant tongue
that intimate space where paradise lost

Copyright © 2004 REbecca Seiferle. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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