Poet’s Corner: Island, Life


 Helpmeet, provisions, the bleating goat and crowing cock of the island

where palm fronds like fish spines chime life’s rhythms

of waves and wind in a bleached conch’s cornucopia of sighs,

as in the guava’s shadow, a calico cat endlessly licks sand and fleas.

Here, she stole her first impression from the horizon, thinking

“Adam must have mated with a shark, trolling the reef before the garden,”

pickling her toes in brine, feeling the suck and pull of the current.

High above the beach, a shouldering hill, where lizards blink and snails crawl

leaving their slick on a window sill as the echo of hammers and building rises

down from Sage Mountain on a dappled day, he watches her through a telescope

meant for night’s ocean, the rorqual spout of stars, but turned toward Long Bay

where nutmeg grains and the tonic scent of split limes, plantains

are gently stirred in wind whisked palms for the upside down view of her coming.

“Eve must have swum like a ghosting bone, close to shore, tempting men

who could not land her,” him turning the knob that drew her closer, kept her distant

so that he could not touch her, and listening for the sounds of percolation

within the tile kitchen he had left to find her, minutes ago, but not so long

as to erase his own way of living, not as an exile but as the hermit

who collected glances as sea glass, caresses as coral best avoided.

Him thinking, the slow hammer swung more slowly, as the sun

panned the island, “One nail an hour will have the roof done

long after the new owner has thrown the towel in.” Her thinking, “The sound

of waves drowns the sound of everything that matters.” While above each,

man-o-wars scan for teeming glints in the bur of coral, the blur of foam,

watching for telltale thrashing tarpon beyond the bleached whale skeleton

where all wash ashore, broken and mangled, ribs of a schooner,

a dory time rowed asunder, the eternal fin of a fiberglass hull,

coconut shells, sea fans recalling their lives in a swell

breeze, and all the while him, on top of the hill, taking the view and all of her in,

and she ankling waves where they break their last lines, testaments of lips

whose ending binds, humming a sea blown shanty off tune

to all but the turtle whose back ripples the calm like an oil nut leaf, brown and hard,

a capsized Tortola submariner come to lay eggs beyond the brain coral,

startled to see her shadow skirt the sandy slipstream generations took

from azure deep to agate bays whose sheltering reach is known by instinct.

“I am master of nothing save for seeing what I see, and even now my sight is failing,” too long on a hillside facing the sun, staring at a body whose mirror was wrong,

reflecting the slate of an erasing ocean.

“I am a shell to behold,” she picking one up, said to herself aloud enough

the turtle decided a dive was best, to rinse the mind of what startles turtles,

resurface the courage to land and deposit the coins of her trove

bestowing life as if Adam and Eve never stalked this cove.


Jim Lowell is a winter mainlander and summer Cuttyhunk poet whose works have appeared in the Canadian Review of Literature, English, the Caribbean Writer, and elsewhere.