Miranda’s Drowned Book

By Debora Greger b. 1949 Debora Greger

Sit still, and hear the last of our sea-sorrow.
—The Tempest

The only potion I saw him brew was tea
of his own blend, a mash of leaves and bark.   
Good for whatever ailed you was his claim,
as if he could see the leaps and falls
he’d named “the heart.” Who knows?
                                                    For argument,   
just say he had no need, had made me up:
one in his likeness, who wouldn’t touch the stuff.   
Who tried to see a window where he outlined   
in air its air of distance, ladylike,
a pane designed to cut you off from the world   
of the dunghill and the worm.

Who fashioned a cloak of leaves that aped his cape,   
mine only as magic as waterproof, a screen   
against the downpour day after day of sun,   
unlike the one he wrapped in and became   
no longer Father but some other, a stranger—
the island’s only one—the local god,   
or was it merely King of Somewhere Else?

Or mother country, I his colony?
He held forth promise of some other isle,   
no drier but more “cultivated,” not   
just with crops but with quotation marks.
How he held forth, dutiful silence mine to guard.   
I borrowed foreign names from the remains   
of a map that washed ashore, my own worn out
through under-use. So, Carolina North,   
or South? Virginia West?
                                    As long as I
remembered not to answer to “Miranda!”,   
the call of parent bird to fledgling ingrate,   
then I was not the heir apparent but   
your normal castaway, a little bored
with ins and outs of tidepools’ smelly courts.

Perhaps not world enough, but I had time   
to watch a hermit crab align himself
and back into a vacant whelk and haul
the home he wore from rocky A to B.
All that watching—watching for what? A sail   
blown off its course by my uncalled-for sighs?

A gorgeous morning, same as yesterday,
I in the same old shirt he’d handed down,   
divining rightly that if it failed to fit,   
a scabbard’s belt would cinch it as a dress.
To the crab’s new quarters a small limpet clung.   
What did I want to be? What did I know   
but him, the man who’d loved his subjects less   
than his library, who’d lost his kingdom, who   
couldn’t put down a book he’d yet to finish?

How close the air remote upon that isle,   
the like of which I have not breathed again.   
How it held water, building up a wall   
by keeping molecules apart. How close   
those castles, not to be counted on except
to rumble, then to wilt late afternoons,   
all squandered weakness.
                                     Whatever I had sensed
about my difference I caught from him   
or from the books he carried in his head.   
Such dreams he made on me.
I am a leaf torn loose from his drowned book.
All men are islands, though they swear otherwise.   
All islands are alike in their unhappiness.

Debora Greger, “Miranda’s Drowned Book” from Off-Season at the Edge of the World. Copyright © 1994 by Debora Greger. Used with the permission of the author and the University of Illinois Press.

Source: Off-Season at the Edge of the World: Poems (1994)

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Poet Debora Greger b. 1949

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Theater & Dance

Poetic Terms Blank Verse, Dramatic Monologue, Persona

 Debora  Greger


Poet and artist Debora Greger earned her BA from the University of Washington and her MFA from the University of Iowa. She has published numerous books of poetry, including Men, Women, and Ghosts (2008), and her work has been included in issues of Best American Poetry. As a reviewer for Publishers Weekly observed, Greger “rarely rejoices, though she can surely console; her pruned-back, autumnal sensibility and her balanced lines . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Theater & Dance

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Blank Verse, Dramatic Monologue, Persona

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