Friday, May 31, 1985

Monster from the Deep, Bahamas

This morning I take coffee black, alone, in the main house. The residents are off to work and the guests are sleeping, or swimming at Orange Beach. Something moves in the bouganvilla. A cat?

Banana leaves clatter like a hard rain against the veranda. I keep thinking I'm in the middle of a mystery novel about a writer who uncovers a crime while researching the latest book. James Bond, and all that.

This place strips us bare. I can't tell the dreaming from the waking. The clock rattles at 7 a.m. The maid asks how I want my eggs. My watch reads 4 a.m., Pacific time. Maid?

Dave Evans, founder of the Napa Valley Poetry Conference, is the brainchild and midwife of this exotic adventure into poetry. The cast of poets is pretty extraordinary too. With the underwriting of a famous novelist's wife, we've managed to relocate the entire conference from the Napa wine country to the Bahamas. We are all poets in residence here.

I arrived in the archipelago of some 700 atolls and islands spread across 550 miles, a week early to help with the conference. But I spend most of my free time in the sea. I can't get enough of it. Dave is as red as a lobster. Kristine Lauretsen is a golden goddess. We drive to the tiny airport to welcome the poets.

Nearly all the poets come from California, and a few from New York, to attend this first international Bahamas writers' conference: a movable feast devours us.

But the sea is my siren call. Every dawn I hitch up my red pareau, precariously clinging to moist flesh, and head for the beach. My feet leave blue tracks in the pink sand. I take in humid mouthfuls of air. When I rise out of the ocean wearing my mask and snorkel, someone—Gary Sange—tells me I'm a monster rising from the deep.

Fish dream while awake. I dreamed my mother called out to me and a conch shell sounded nine times to call the fish back home to the burial ground. Carolyn Forché tells me to pull up my hidden memory. I take in a mouthful and choke on this confusion of sea and air.

Tongue of Ocean. Saline rivers 10,000 feet deep. Islands in the stream. I think of Hemmingway with his six-toed cats. But I'm not a fisherman. I take a quarter-mile swim. The shore is almost hidden by rolling swells. I am so far from home.

Lucayan Arawak Indians once lined conch shells along the eastern shore of these islands to remind the sun of its feathered cloak. We eat sweet, white meat of the conch. What's no longer needed is thrown back into the jungle. The barracuda sleeps and the shark is hungry.

Columbus named the island San Salvador, within 25 years all 50,000 of the Lycayans were dead. Words from the Lucayan: canoe, cannibal, hammock, hurricane and tobacco.

Shells and sea grass line the small turquoise dory. Gary Sange and I row out to the staghorn coral forests and talk of Crane's "Open Boat." We're near-twins both born in San Francisco, but he teaches in Virginia, and talks constantly about his wife, a ballet dancer. We watch iridescent turquoise triggerfish with flanged cobalt brows turn from lime-green to yellow. He talks about her so much, I almost know her name. Our anchor knocks off a piece of staghorn coral. It sounds like glass breaking. We're killing the reef with our carelessness.

Bob Hass tells us, "Try and avoid the verb, "to be" in your writing. He and Carolyn Forché take scuba tanks down with an unlicensed guide. Bob's respirator fails. Last week, at 30 feet, someone drowned. He is abruptly reminded that the word conspiracy is to breathe together.

When Bob's childhood sweetheart and wife learned the lump was benign, they wildly celebrate, the rejoice, but we notice the mantle of her being is separating from Bob's. I like her tall blonde ranginess. There is a lovely unpretentiousness about her. We are both natives of Marin. It is an unexpected bond this far from home.

Sharon Doubiago says, "One of the names for death is Blondie." Dave will meet Blondie soon enough when he returns home to Napa. Bob's wife has escaped death this time, but her marriage doesn't.

The pufferfish rolls his peacock-blue eyes at me, takes grave insult, and indignantly puffs up the size of a grapefruit when I yank his tail with my toes. No sign of the parrot fish's sleeping mantle.

Dead sea grass sticks to my body like confetti. I'm a Junkanoo festival in goombay time. I dive into sea grass to look for a shadow, the rippled edge of a shell. Gary is my unofficial dive partner, but I ditch him because the sea calls me like a secret lover to school me in the ways of Aprhodite.

Sharon argues with Gary Sange over the merits of formal education. The Bible and the L.A. Times were her writing teachers. She said, "I began writing prose to fill in the gaps in my personal history." Gary's a formalist. They come to an impasse of near blows. I hold my tongue. Sharon is my friend. Gary is my friend.

From above, the queen conch blends in with the white sandy bottom. The edible conch has spires that cast shadows, making it easier to spot. The waves also cast rippling shadows on the sea bed.

Midnight swim. Something followed me in the water. Nothing I could see—just a presence as if it were watching my back. The night holds more terror for me than the sea.

Marcella Taylor asks us to write about our recurring dreams and landscapes. And to address the goddess within ourselves. The goddess is undressing me until I am bone-naked.

At Nassau Harbor, mountains of conch shells line the shore—some are the size of a man's head. From shells of these large sea snails, artificial reefs line the shore like thousands of discarded pink dentures. We voraciously eat a spicy aphrodisiac of conch fritters, and marinated conch salad pickled with peppers and lime.

Aphrodite's arms. So many of us slipping off for secret assignations. My first night here, a Bahamian fed me fritters but I knew what was up. I spend my free time alone as my man, John Oliver Simon, is at home waiting for me.

A fisherman complains how the conch is getting scarcer on New Providence Island. He has to dive deeper and farther from shore on the outer islands. One of the most promising of the young Bahamian writers, Garth is from Catt Island. He tells us stories Andros Island is where the freshwater wells rise and fall with the tides.

Fresh water floats above the saline river. The water is brackish and my thirst deepens. With red hibiscus behind our ears, we dance to the steel drum and rasping saw. I prefer the left ear, and come to find that means I'm free. Owned by no man.

Scattered coins: hundreds of sand dollars in the sand bank. Casinos with no clocks. "Those of us who live here can't gamble, even us Americans," E.Lane Moore tells me.

From this harvest of the Deep, huge bleached urchins nestle like pale loaves of the fishermen. When the moon is on the water, the barracuda comes collecting.

As we bathe in the sea,
bone white lilies of our arms
blossom under the full moon.
Translucent fish slide between my thighs.
Distant thunder wraps itself in sheets
of ghost lightning.

This morning, the reef breaks through blue silk and is wreathed in whitecaps. A lace gown on the sea.

Storm at sea.

One begins to understand the yielding shape of a palm tree during a storm.

"When the hurricanes come, the wind howls like a banshee. Then it's calm. Don't go outside. That's the middle of the eye of the storm," one of the Bahamian poets tells us. "Then it begins again. We fill the bathtubs with water. Everybody drinks and parties until it goes away."

Beyond the reef, a boy diving behind the boat is attacked by sharks and doesn't survive. I am chastised for sneaking out and diving alone. Again.

A barge of brackish water from Florida arrives to ease the tourist drought in the Cable Beach condominiums. The tourists and the unslakable thirst of casuarina trees and cotton suck the land dry. This is a desert jungle.

"We're beginning to see beyond the postcard vision," said Carolyn.

A crimson beach fig leaf stains the stone cannon and cart in front of the decayed colonial mansion facing the sea. Discarded blood. They say Bluebeard slept here.

Bob tells us the story of Jean Rhys' "Wide Sargasso Sea." Jane Eyre's story from the other perspective. "Calabanisms, he said. "How the colonial mentality separates you from yourself."

The Bahamas was a colony of Great Britain until 1973, and though 85% Black, the real power rested in the hands of a few Anglo Bay Street Boys. "But," Nathanial Mackey comments, "The structure doesn't change. Only the color of the skin does."

Marcella Taylor says, "I have non-exclusive feelings of race and nationality. I have problems with national boundaries."

In "The Gulf," Jamaican poet Derek Walcott writes,"The process by which the poet writes is the vehicle to establish a national identity."

One Bahamian writer tells us," I don't know who I am. I'm not West Indies. I don't fit in with the Blacks, and in England I'm looked upon as a colonist. What am I supposed to be?"

The question of identity in the Bahamas is also a question of race. Many Bahamians refer to a constructed history which doesn't predate the end of slavery.

Nate Mackey observes, "This alienation is not theoretical."

Another Bahamian writer complains,"I have no stories to write about. My life is not interesting, not like yours." She recounts how her great-grandfather was thrown overboard in a wooden box and he landed on an uninhabited outer island. We sit, transfixed.

Carolyn and Bob tell them, "We came here to learn from you. We don't know your literature. You tell us."

We are not neo-colonialists come to re-enforce 300 years of dominant culture. We want to learn about the emerging genre of Bahamian writing by becoming students with them.

Until 1974, the Bahamas did not have educational institutions beyond high school which most of the Black population did not attend. The only place to get published is at College of the Bahamas, with its preoccupation for proper 19th c. British forms. It's all about mimicking Keats and Shelley.

There are two dialects: Queen's English and nation-speak, which is closer to our New Orleans dialect. Or Creole. Bahamians are careful to speak only Queen's English to us.

Someone asks, "Did you go over the hill yet?" A rite of passage. Blue Hill. Fox Hill. Hills here are relative. Yes, there are picturesque buckled houses with layers of blistered paint in brilliant hues. No windows or water.

A red leaf among the green like a snake in the garden. Fodder for our poetic appetites.

The land snails I collect in the jungle crawl away during the night. I follow glistening trails.

Bob Hass asks us, "What is opposite in your childhood that you poetically crave?"

Like cumbersome crabs, we swimmers crawl out of the ocean. A Black man walking along the shore sings out, "Hey coconut! Buy some." A woman selling shell necklaces croons, "Be good to me, Honey!" Gary indulges her.

Flame trees and tequila sunsets grate against an opalescent sea. The image of the full golden moon against silhouetted palms trees still won't leave me.

Sharon tells us, "Coming to another country, your consciousness changes."

All right, I'll admit I came here because I thought it sounded exotic. By day, ragged children sell shells by the docks and by night they steal water from the hotels.

He g'wan roun,
catch de drops o' wahter in da night.
Over da hill, he g'wan

The insidiousness of poverty settles into the psyche like a fine dust. Jungle flowers carry the pervasive odor of decay. Transplanted European ruins and casinos inhabit Paradise Island. We read poetry in a 14th century cloister transported from France.

I wait for the statue of Persephone to emerge into sunlight with one hand shadowing her face, and walk down these long corridors roofed by clouds to listen to the man reading poetry in her garden.

She stood in rapt attention for so long,
her marble features have softened.
Hoarded iron from slave ships
stained these white columns
and rust shavings blossomed in the sea.

"Down at da bridge. Get some snow, here. Only a dollah!"

I go over the hill and begin to see past the postcard. Sweet frangipani, almost foetid. Foliage entwines with rusted cans, bottles and conch shells glowing pink—a salmon sunset nestled in the leathery green leaves.

Rotting conch flesh claws my nostrils leading me deeper into the jungle. A feeling of trespass overcomes me as if we were peering up the skirts of our dead grandmothers—expecting to find a lover.

Marcella asks us to write what kind of animal we are.

At the governor's palace we're invited to tea and we stuff ourselves on delicate sandwiches as scantily clad models stalk down the ramp. Lady Cash officially welcomes us to the Bahamas.

This hand uncovers ghosts from the past. I photograph a jacket slung over a marble rail, sleeves luffing in the wind, like a boat without oars.

The van lurches down dirt roads, past shacks on stilts where kerosene lanterns illumine old men sitting in doorstoops. Barefoot kids run in front of us, shrieking with laughter. Only their teeth and the whites of their eyes shine in this darkness.

A small boy carries water in plastic gallon jugs. A slumbering pig on a tether grunts and returns to dreaming. A revival church with brilliant electric light jars me into the 20th century.

The sea breathes outside my window. The ceiling fan whispers to itself something I can't understand. A stranded cockroach buzzes in circles on his back. Mindful of them, we learn to shuffle our feet in the darkness.

A maid straightens up the day's clutter. I'm growing used to the maid. It's becoming easier to make invisible slaves, but our poetry is becoming rawboned.

What can one say that hasn't been said before about the tropics that hasn't been depicted on every postcard from here to Tahiti? Nathanial says it's possible to enter the consciousness of another.

Hot noon on an outer island.
The hermit crab,
afraid to leave his shell, died.

A small lesson of survival is illustrated for us. We have 128 circadian rhythms that control us during the course of a day making it difficult to adjust time.

Liquid silver eyes of translucent surf minnows—miniature eclipses swimming between my fingers. At home it will be hours before dawn breaks. At home, I will remember what Sharon said about us being aliens here. But I will also be an alien at home too.

When the sea grass dies,
it is whiter than this beach.

From here, my tracks look like those of a sea turtle. I ate the forbidden meat of the conch and dreamed of a thin man who came in darkness to kill me. My monsters become more tangible in this place. I waken to the thin reed sound of my own screaming.

Caught in a rip tide, I swim toward my dive partner, Gary, but I am trapped in a wall of water and I swim until I am exhausted. I hold his life in my hands. I am responsible for him. He swims farther out in the sea garden, oblivious of the danger. I have no choice but to follow him. Terror reigns. I break through the rip tide and it eventually carries us both safely to shore. I do not tell him of the danger we faced. He is new to the sea, swimming with confidence. My almost twin.

Marcella tells us the unconscious and poetry are alike. "Fiction focuses on a period of time. Try for a border between the conscious and unconscious."

She sends us out into the jungle alone. It begins to rain. I write, "There are trees here that have no names." But then, because they have no names, I can't continue. Nouns define and separate species.

Bob says,"What I like about poetry is that it's like lightning. The heart starts rushing toward some answers. Try and contradict yourself early on in the poem." But it's really about verbs after all.

A small nurse shark swims beneath my thighs. Cat eyes curious, she follows us in a slow game of tag a half a mile from shore. I hold out the queen conch in offering. Sensing danger, its mantle begins to coil around the lip of the shell, and my fingers like a large tongue.

The shark ignores the offering knowing it's inedible. Attracted by the minute traces of blood from my period, the shark follows us expectantly, waiting. Its ventral slits rhythmically opening and closing with the rise and falling of water.

Barbels, whiskers brush us as it circles. Through our snorkels we nervously laugh and look for the mother lurking on the edge of this murky celadon bowl.

As Gary and I head in, the shore slips beneath the distant thin green punctuation between sea and sky. We can only return to the sea as visitors.

An air bubble suspends a green bottle above the sand so that the neck scribbles unintelligible marks on the rippled bottom. We dive down and free the bottle from its tedious task. A guitarfish sweeps his mantle over hundreds of bottles filled with saline brew.

In the scrub brush along the cliffs, I find a bag of women's clothing. I look for bodies in the undergrowth.

My soul sleeps in the tropics
and I am separated from myself
for long periods of time.
Clouds cover the moon like a map of Africa.
Beneath the odor of frangipani,
blue-tailed lizards mate,
thrust out ochre bibs of ruffed lace.

Carolyn reminds us to keep our appointments with the muse, to pull up our hidden memory, and clarify our private emotions. Follow our inner rhythms.

Nathanial says, "Remember this small family of words, this endangered species. Think about your own boundaries as writers."

Bob adds, "Art is dialectical; it speaks in opposites. One way to tell the truth is to break all the rules."

Weightless, we drift in aquamarine and come up for air like seals. Sharon crests a mountainous wave as I slide into a trough. We dive for shells and collect fragments of poetry.

The wind catches her words and flings them over her shoulder like sea spray. I watch her lips move. I taste salt at the corners of my mouth. I taste the bitterness of this place. Bleached limestone cliffs push against a skin of jungle like bones jutting from the carcass of a dead animal.

The old sea bottom of coral and shell blinds me, reflecting the light back into my eyes.

Recipe: Begin each morning by returning to the cradle. Tread water. Feel salt sting on the lips. Breathe in humid air where the slow speech of words foams over the reef.


Summer of 1985

© 1985 Maureen Hurley, at Orange Hill, Nassau Island, Bahamas. Portions of this essay have appeared in Caribbean Writer and the Nassau Guardian. Glenna Luschei was supposed to make an anthology of our Bahama writing, and asked me to revise this, then never made the book. Story of my life. I remember being stuck on it, under deadline, and John Oliver Simon helped me revise it, banging away on his upright typewriter, circa September, 1985, when it reached its present form, but I'm posting it here for proximity purposes.

rev. 2007, and 2014


2 AM is the loneliest hour
it's when souls leave their bodies
with the turning of the tide
Stop the clocks
so you won't have to ask
the time of death.


Monday, May 20, 1985


Seeping from beneath the windows
golden motes drift like webs in the sun.
Your smile, soft at dawn,
the lips of darkness
melt in the morning light.
I rise like fog, like a dancer.

Across the valleys
mist rises in unison,
like voices of birds in the pines
Strung on pitchpine fenceposts
barbed wire hums, plucked
by the feet of birds.
The dog groans softly in sleep,
the cat pushes darkness from his bones.

As you kindle the fire
smoke rises in the morning fog.
In the canyon, distant sounds
of the Eel River gurgling.
If you listen closely
you can imagine conversations
spoken in any voice you want.

CPITS workshop Mimi Albert
added, rev. 2/18


          —from photographs

Footprints in the mud.
A photo of Pankot in the hills
The train clacks along the tracks.
It all began in the mud of the Ganges.

Women's eyes flash in the bazaar.
Bracelets and bangles,
bicycles packed in herds
spin towards the sun,
spokes intersecting light.

Footprints in the snow
slipping backward down the hill
the squeak of snow  and blue light
reflecting in the forest,
Dog's tongue clacks
as he catches his breath.

CPITS workshop with Mimi Albert
added 2/18

Saturday, May 18, 1985


Last night I dreamed of a California
where arbitrary rules of conscience
were written in red ocher,
not uranium leaking into the sea.

The Califia of darkness bathes
in this liquid light that spreads
between the shoulder blades
like some dark night of invisibility.

But the beach was so real, she said,
I'm dreaming of a place back in time.
Exodus, she said. I'm dreaming of night blindness.
Then blind man fell mute
in a house just like California.

They're white because they have no color.
Las oloras de color. Hace tambien, he said.
Death is a place where the radio waves
fall silent in deep space.

minor revisions
at John Oliver Simon's place in Berkeley
added 2/18

Friday, May 17, 1985



Can you make music with your hands?
Ever beat out a rhythm with your hands?
Ever slap hands palm to palm, high five,
swing branch to branch, on the monkey bars,
or dip them in red ocher,
or paint with these hands?
On the wall, an imprint of Lascaux.
Michelangelo's bright hand of God.
This hand of inspiration, a divine spark.
Can you see with your hands?
In the dark with your hands,
can you see, feeling your way
for the light switch in an unfamiliar house?
The tips of your fingers discover vast mountains
and plains as you search for light.
Entire  continents on the plaster walls
of his dark house,
these hands.

minor revisions


We shake hands,
no concealed weapons,
a ritual of ocher,
an imprint signature, ritual.
Karate-empty hands,
without weapons, and fingers
to push that one red button.
Before there were hands,
fish walked on the mud,
and birds feathered the air.
Before there were hands
bison scribed the plains with their teeth.
Before there were hands
fire was the only voice of the volcano.
Flowers, and the paint of spring,
meteors falling stars
sudden light
empty light
sudden hand
empty hand
sudden light.

minor revisions 
added 2/18

La Mano, Un Mano, poetry notes, John Oliver Simon, La Esquelita

La Mano, Un Mano

John draws a hand on the board, and says la mano. Today, our last day, we will write about our hands. What we write poetry with. The human hand. Petroglyphs in red, Ii think a horse cannot write with its hooves.

John mentions Pancho Aguila, Folsom Prison, how hand jive was a way of talking without words, time passing. One big hand bringing us to our senses, hand armies cusped by the hand.

Do we touch, do we leave by the hand, the sign of the cross, do we leave our exodus?
Hand poems by kids, think about what you do with your hands, John says. Without ears, deaf people can can talk faster than we can with their hands. Blind people read faster with their hands.

John says, when I speak English, I use my hands less. He says that Spanish has more feeling to it. He says: take a good look at your hands, look at the calluses, the lifelines, the writing bumps, the scars, your fingerprints.

An idea, write a poem in the shape of your hand.

John Oliver Simon's poetry workshop at La Esquelita where I was documenting his workshops with photographs.


Be with me where reefs,
bone-white coral beaches sing
and wisdom ripens in the sun,
where casuarina needles litter the sea
and where mango forests and cotton trees
drain the water from the land.

Be with me where the mating dance
of the tree climbing lizards,
bluetail lizards and mouse lizards
arch their tails and push their backs up
and thrust okra throat pouches like fandancers,
in a calypso rhythm to the sun.

Be with me in the humid tropical night
when the distant thunder
dressed in ghostly sheets of lightning
covers our arms that are bone-white lilies
under the full moon, as we bathe in the sea
where the barracuda sleeps
and the shark is hungry.

Be with me where  clouds cover the moon
and it becomes a map of Africa.
The moon breaks out through Ethiopia,
Africa is three times larger than America,
we cannot hide the bleached bones
of colonial slaves who toiled in the cotton fields,
and the sugar plantations
of these wayward islands.

Be with me where we danced to steel drums
rasping through the torpid night
with hibiscus behind our ears
and our hips meshed to an ancient rhythm.

Be with me where Arawak Indians
once gathered peach-lipped conch shells
along the eastern shores to
remind the sun of its feathered cloak.

Be with me where the fish of rainbow skins
slide between my legs in translucent opal hues
as the ocean breathes beside me,
as the night falls from the sky
to the ground and shatters into sorrow
and sunset slips from the private conch shells.

Be with me on this raft of a bed,
and may these damp sheets be like love
turning the fan slowly in an empty room.
Be with me,
and may I always be with you.

slightly rev. for clarity, added 2/18
John Oliver Simon's California Poetry Heritage workshop
with Mona Lisa Saloy at John Swett School, Oakland, CA

Wednesday, May 15, 1985


A colonist, homesick for Europe
shipped the ruins of a medieval cloister
to Paradise Island to remind himself
of the heritage he'd lost in what he called
a savage tropic land. One hand shadowing
her neoclassic features, a marble Persephone
in exile, longing for the harsh familiarity of winter,
gazes homeward across the immutable
aquamarine bell curve of sea and sky.

I came here because it sounded exotic.
Nearby, someone begins to play the piano.
Waves of clapping echo from the terraced garden
sloping seaward to where the slow speech of water
foams over the reef. High tea under palm trees
and a preoccupation of things British.
Lace trimming the uniform of the Black maid
serving coconut cake crackles like paper doilies
on the grass like unseasonable snow.
Another wave of gentry feeds from her dark hands.
Tea leaves in the cup arranged in familiar patterns.
Music wafts through knit branches of immigrant casuarinas.

This hand uncovers ghosts
of transplanted nuns, five centuries dead,
starched habits rustling like palm fronds,
wandering down corridors open to balmy skies,
who are puzzled by the perpetual weather
and the presence of lovers on a moss-covered marble couch,
their skin covered with green except the places
where admirers have touched for good luck.

I am voyeur to the other side of paradise.
On the docks, thin boys dressed in polyester rags,
new poverty from the age of technology,
sell pink-lipped conch shells to tourists,
and they pirate water at night from park spigots
because brackish wells are no longer sweet.
A terrestrial paradise, transformed by slave ships.
Hoarded iron stained these white columns,
and rusted shackles blossomed in this sea.
Death is not a practitioner of apartheid.
It strips skin from bones of Blacks and Whites with equanimity.
Intrigued by the contrast, I photograph
a jacket slung over a marble railó
sleeves luffing in the wind like a boat without oars.

With his mattock, a gardener dresses the thin soil
where only limestone endured the ravages of cotton
and sugar cane plantations. Molasses, rum and oranges.
His hands coax tender English grass into fecundity.
Beneath my palm, pitted marble columns weather
under tropical sun, like coral, like bone.
I dreamed my mother called out to me
and a conch shell sounded nine times
to call the fish back home to the burial ground.

5/85 Bahamas rev. 87
1989 The Caribbean Writer, Vol 3


Blue lavender waves
break over boiling lava
in muted colors
mist rises from a snow bed
of warm sand—red purple waves
holes to fall into
oceans to swim out of
a buddha to sit on the ledge with
a standing wave
a crevice for your thoughts.

We painted our dreams
on our faces
on our bodies
red for the earth
we took our dreams into ourselves
into our bodies into our bodies.

poem for a sculpture of Michael's
the Bahamas May 1985

Hot pink and tuna
at the Governor's tea,

Hot pink and tuna
there is a little bit of running
slinky chipper jouncing hips
hot pink and tea
with bouncing tits
sashaying ass
and Randy in his blue
crystals cool
yellow sands
tuna and hot pink tea
enjoyable afternoon.
Junkanoo Junkanoo
you see the difference
the music makes it strict
boo-boo woo hoo
cuckoo mumu
junk junk junk a noo
a new cowbells big ass trumpets
crystal liberated
a Bantu warrior in hot pink.

the Bahamas May 1985


In a terraced rose garden
we delicately sip afternoon tea
in cups made from the bones
of bison that once browsed
an ocean of grass.

Seeking equations, we talk
of neo-colonialism and drought
while history resurrects itself
beneath thirsty casuarinas & ironwood.
Lizards hieroglyph the dimpled sand—
the thin tropical soil, robbed of identity.

The ravenous night falls
like an axe from the sky.
The light trapped in coral sand
and the bone-white lilies of our arms
blossom under a full moon.

Heavy dampness in the sheets:
the fan toils in an empty room—
a pale shadow of the wind
no one will cipher.

Orange Beach, the Bahamas,
5/85; rev.7/30/93


NUNS  (outakes)

I imagine the presence of nuns
five centuries dead, habits
rustling like palm fronds
as they walk down these
corridors open to the sky.
In the courtyard, shadows collect
in pools on marble skin.
A colonist lonesome for France
shipped the 14th century cloister
to Paradise Island to remind himself
of the genteel heritage he's lost
in this savage land. In a nearby house,
someone begins to play the piano.
A gardener's hand dresses the soil.
The pitted marble column beneath my palm
has weathered under the tropical sun
like coral, like bone.