Leave me be. From here on the veranda
I watch a path that’s not slimed by slugs,
or soiled by rabbits, the damn brown rabbits
pausing in their gnawing, or the high stink
of daisies, but one that’s combed sand, palm, crab.
What light there is mottles my hands into
sealskin, dumb critters I killed for a time,
and not for food. At the first tap, their chops
turned quite violet, a singer’s color.
Not me, nor my wife, Ngarima, could sing,
though her lovetunes—whew! Crescendo I heard
them call it, real crescendo. To me, she’s
“Anemone” for how her legs flail. Why
do words at the end get better? Shouldn’t
they get stuck up in the pump as it rusts?
In this light I’m on my boat, a swan’s back.
That’s the English in me, the swan. Better
a re-fined shark. Like all sailors, I hate
the water and anything in it.
First time I clippered was after flogging
Victoria’s death. Oh, a boat in black,
crack-silent, the sailors doffed, there’s the soul.
Then I weathered a grand typhoon. Too young
for women, (begging your pardon, ) I drank
double rum as we wallowed down. Since that
wasn’t the end, I changed. After suchlike
some men float in their eye juice, tide to tide.
Only a stirring in the groin tricked me
into coming about, my Ngarima.
She’s a strong wind, she filled me. We traded
a schoonerful of string, hooks, lemon drops.
Might as well as been the goddamn family
ferry since we stuck to ports with sisters
and grass huts. I went fat as a porpoise
on good bream. But this is no life story;
there’s a point, that these Poly-nesians
sail to the pull of their balls, not string maps.
That’s all cat’s cradle. And their balls are wrong.
How often I’ve hauled them in! They laughed when
I stuck my hand in the sky as if to
hold on. The right stars always steered my dreams,
so the booming at midnight was the reef
and not the bottom of the boat, a sound
as sickening as a child’s night coughing.
Stars bored into me as I humped on deck
with all the lamps off or got tied to the mast,
for penance. This is why the bed’s out here.
I got to see my way. Change sixty years
of star-towing just for a little dying?
Put out the light. I can smell their burning.