Sit still, and hear the last of our sea-sorrow.
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?
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.