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In the Islands

ISSUE:  Winter 1990
The butterfly girls come up the rope so quickly—
hand over hand from the dark—they seem to float.
Two hold the rope with their feet. The other two
don’t use feet at all—their thin arms so wiry,
young bodies underweight. Once over the rail
they are carried off. The one who pouts
at being that rushed (almost my daughter
unready to cut short a telephone call),
whom the young third mate is balancing on his shoulder,
sedately attempts to straighten her blouse, torn
or minus a clip. With her small trills she may,
I guess, be telling the mate how much; despite
myself, I hear familiar notes of appeal.

Daughter of music, even the rarefied angels
beholding your delicate throat would find you fair.
Reluctant to meet your eyes, I turn
to the fishers’ lanterns out in the bay.

On another arc of the globe she’s combing her hair
in a car that has ghosted up to the curb
as quietly as a bumboat. She needs no mirror
to find the left-hand part in her brown mane
and toss both sides into place. I need no light
to know her quirky laugh, her shoulder, but cannot see
the boy who brought her home . . . her breath
shaded tonight with peppermints. Apparently
I am there, the one in the car who coaxes,
the one outside who forbids, the one who knows
the small cry deep in her throat is not
a call for help.

         Whatever the hour
it is late. My shadowy footing sways
like a ship swinging at anchor, a ship where a girl
limps barefoot across the deck. Carried away,
she has returned. And carried away, I return,
find her a cigarette and safety pin,
my intention tender, intricate, almost
beyond reproach. She may recognize
a smuggler running dark at the edge of the bay,
that unlit water, beyond the flickering lantern rings
where boys in the fish-canoes plunge their harpoons.


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