Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Thursday, December 23, 2004

No Going Back (Nov. 2003)

There came a time in the deadest
block of night, those three hours
between the last drink and first
light, when I found the apple
island in a sweetly curved woman’s
unfolding and encircling sighs:
Her bed became that shore I
had for years been searching for:
she clasped me in Yes and I
believed her, believed was home
at last in that pentecost of light
and come and wild pounding surf.
Released at last from my long
historic plunge, I drifted off.
A woman came to me in a dream,
still standing in that blueblack
surf and looking straight at me
like fortune or fate she said,
“You who have touched me
may never return.” It’s what
the queen of the Island of the
Women told Bran as he sought
to go back to Ireland. But row
on he did, and as he approached
Srub Brain he called to the people
on shore who he was and where
he had been. No one had heard
of Bran except in ancient tales;
and when one of his crew could
no longer contain his homecoming
heart, he leapt out of the boat
and waded in. As his foot grazed
that first dry reach of sand it
trembled and then paled to
the finest ash, falling in a torrent
from his tunic. The wind picked
up and carried all those ashes off;
Bran then knew his fate and
fortune had married where he
sat in the rocking boat just offshore.
All he could do was write his
voyagings down, cast the book in
the tide, and row off, no longer a
man of Ireland, never to find the
Island of the Women again.
Votive now of the numberless
wave, adrift between the lives.
What singing then in the wild
north wind as he scanned horizons
for the next beach with its own
folk tale, its own one night stand
with the next selkie or giantess
or keeper of the door. It’s 4 a.m.
and some Atlantic swirl is sweeping
over Central Florida in long
sighing breezes, the rain a
wet dapplement to today’s oar
tale, dripping on that shore
she says I’ll never again reach.
Of her delights I’ll only say
that one night wove a thread
of heaven through a loom
of limbs, our bodies all wave,
all curve and smash and singing
foam -- sufficient of that otherworld
desire to hang a sweet apple
on some branch of longing
overhead, which I may sing of,
row toward, and ink in full
measure here, though never
actually grasp and pull to my
my actual mouth, else the dream
turn to ash and blow to smithereens.
In life we get enough of heaven
to make our hells complete,
but that is not a bad thing,
really: For what’s a good story
without the trials, the islands,
the books tossed toward a shore
where beds and breakers infinitely
roar? And what are you without
a story, o human, windblown ash?


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