Tuesday, February 15, 1994



Sometimes I tire of the ebb and flow,
that restless cease, surcease of the heart:
systole, diastole, squeezing moonlight out of my skin.
Darkness descends, I am left with little
more than the definition of thin sheets
between my body and the ponderous weight of air.

Hot water vents, cracks in the floor, creatures with no mouths.
How barnacles stand on their heads and eat with feathery feet.
More time. The despair of those lost at sea. Full fathom five.
Coelacanths, coral polyps; that briny bath blooming.
Stromatolites. The first “I am” life uttered. The Bermuda Triangle.
Thalatta, thalatta. Basilisks. QueegQueeg’s tattoos.
I am fond of the gobies and those mudskippers.
If you want to blame someone, blame their ancestors.
If only they hadn’t attempted to breathe air!

I trouble the coastlines, ceaselessly nibbling at them.
I think of rain falling on my skin as a kind of poetry.
I miss the song of the myriad river tongues,
so many missing, shadows of their former selves.

My poor rivers. Less gossip from the heartland.
A bad taste in my mouth. The Danube, the Rhine, the Dnipr.
Those missing in action: the Colorado. The Sea of Azov.
I understand there are others. What of the mighty Amazon,
Old Muddy, The Yantzhee, The Nile? Are not their songs my songs?

I miss the music of whales that circled my body like an echo.
Where have my salmon children gone? My shoals of herring?
That incessant droning of engines, a continuous headache, there is no cure.
         Drift nets. Oil is only one problem.
                  There are others I don’t wish to discuss.

The equatorial sun drinks my skin. The way the stars dress me.
Starfish on the mudflats at daybreak. The origins of indigo.
Yes, I am aware the pH of their blood is similar to mine,
yes, tears and amniotic fluid. But they must cease.
No, I don’t hold it against them, for am I not their mother?


Thursday, February 3, 1994


            —from the movie, 1492, Conquest of Paradise

At the edge of sunset lies infinity,
and beyond the darkness of dreams
is the chasm at the brink of the world
where sea monsters and dragons wait.
Or so it is said, who’s to disprove it?

But the sailor thought, Life has more imagination
than what we carry in our dreams. On the other side
of day is night, and I can prove it by sailing west.
Imagine the world as round as this orange! 
he said to his son, peeling it, 
as the ships sank beneath the horizon.

Clipped wings of independent minds:
to think was to sin against the church.
To purge the heretics in her midst,
Spain’s fires burned with an unholy passion.
The pyres illuminated the night of the soul.

Columbus confided to Queen Isabel,
There is another route to Marco Polo’s eastern paradise.
Stubbornly, he clung to his contrary belief.
From Castille & Aragon, his tall ships chased sunset,
months at sea, never falling off the 28th parallel.
I can no longer measure the distance of stars to horizon & sunset. How much longer will this new land hide from us? I cannot keep count of this endless chain of days and nights, the doldrums in this circle of fog engufing our very thoughts. What new words for my crew who have lost faith? 
He swatted his cheek. 
Stared at the blood. 
The first clue: a mosquito.
On October 12, we landed on Guanahene Island, gave thanks to God, to celebrate San Salvador, the first naming. Islands everywhere. We must be close to the mainland, but where? 39 of my crew stayed to build La Navidad on Haiti, but did not survive to tell their tale of inquest.
I returned in high hopes with 17 ships, a thousand men, I returned with horses, tools and, guns, grain to build the cities of Nuevo Mundo where we would be allowed our own thoughts. But God and the weather have conspired against me. 
He never discovered the mainland,
but the mosquitos, the malaria,
the hurricanes of Terra Incognita,
and the infinite greed of Spain devoured him. 
Inquisition of the soul.

He returned, a shadow of a man, to his courtly enemies.
The gauntlet of the old world squeezing him.
He spent the familiar prison of his days gazing out to sea.
The conquistadors who followed his footsteps,
climbed the growing mountain of bones
to plunder the origin of of sunset.