Hides, horns, hooves, tallow, wool:
the commerce of the world drives men, takes lives.
Homeward bound, from Buenos Aires to Italy,
the ocean our glittering toy, we were dragged
from St. Mary’s Roadstead by a gale, just off
the Scilly Isles, success turning on our lips
as good wine turns to bad in the unreasoning bottle.
Paper was our downfall, we struck the Paper Ledge,
I at the bow, the blind eyes in my head
responsible. Washed up near Carn Near,
I lay with the years, my beauty going
quickly, as yours will, weather coarsening
my fine features into wind-roughened wood.
Come closer. Read me with fingers.
Learn by looking in my eyes how elements
conspire to drag the living down to never-to-be
fathomed depths and give new life to the dead.
I am fixed on a thin horizon, my punishment
to see now what I didn’t see then. Forever will I live
on this windswept, tropical isle, buoys ringing
in my head, signalling rocks and shallows
I must watch out for. I am still changing!
Who speaks to you from dark depths?
Whose voice enchants and holds you, as innocent
beauty can’t, in a briny net woven out of hardship?
It is I, the daughter of time.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 7 Number 1, on page 43
Copyright © 2020 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com