Written in Albuquerque (Mesa SE), May 2001. I planned this to be the first poem in a cycle about the Atlantis legend, but I was reading Tolkien’s Silmarillion at the time and figured I couldn’t possibly do better with the legend than he had done, so turned my poem into a love poem. Ho hum, what else is new. It was written shortly after Leisha broke up with me for the final time, but the woman in the poem isn’t Leisha (she seems to have red hair, for one thing). My suspicion about Atlantis (which first shows up in Plato’s Critias) is that it was a volcanic island near Crete in the Mediterranean, not in the Atlantic Ocean. The speaker therefore passes the “Pillars of Hercules” (more or less the Strait of Gibraltar) to sail away from it. In ancient times this was the limit of the known world. Dale Harris let me read this at one of her spring multimedia shows wearing a white robe, a white mask and a laurel crown. I love Mitch Rayes’ music that goes with it on my CD Hush. Published in my books The Closed Shrine and Wings of the Gray Moon, and in the online journal Fickle Muses.
The Last Ship from Atlantis
The world burns in the night.
Salt tightens my nostrils
as prow cuts water
unshapen now, beyond the Pillars,
a mirror blotted not by fire
but the loss of it.
The world burns but I still take your hand
miles beneath me now, and green
as the snow on our mountaintops,
green as our white gates
gaped to streams of horses
jangling gold, bickering ivory,
the saddles sizzling in the scornful noon.
I still take your hand and kiss your airless mouth
as the dark sky beneath the dark sky
speeds away without changing
and deep winds cross us to wretched destinations
and slap us back even from there.
Hilarious to lose you
to the flying bleeding rocks
when I remember how you could melt the earth
with a sniff and gesture of face
and that walk of yours, tall as a star.
We lay in the cool of the dry peaks
and the cool of our sweet sweat,
the mild lime squares of ambergris
still buckled around your bare hips,
toes and fingers colored
after kings’ gowns or eyelids.
Lifted on an elbow, you swept
the sea and the gloried island
with your other arm, saying “Gift.”
And gift was given.
Nor did you and I have anything to do
with the givings and takings of gods,
with barters or oaths,
sins or merits.
Gift was the cry of finding, the cry of forsaking,
the same cry,
from your upward broken lips
and the sleep that doused you like June storm
so your thought could scamper in drifted buildings.
The hot small flower
you drew along my cheek
was the smash of our strange armadas,
our slaveries, our crawling vaults.
Oh, we were everything they killed us for:
I carry that like a tomb
in my open fists.
We landed on the world like a hawk
with a voice all hunger and harm.
Hunger and harm
were the flags of our plazas
the tribute of our tax
the bread we threw in the wine.
I will say you were innocent
with all this murder in your hair to the roots
because this is how you were born,
a tongue of rich pallor
dressed in thieves’ grabbings.
And I will say I’m condemned
though I was born how you were,
one of the hawk’s dead fingers,
because it wasn’t work, pleasure,
or any wakeful thing took me
to the harbor this morning,
just dim desire
to look on the lying sea,
and when the crap of our victories
the drench of our sciences
the cripples of our hopes
began to flog the ground to bits in gnashes of smoke
and heavenly vine of flame and spattered lace of screams
I made no attempt
to run between the nodding walls
and under the gods’ own clouds
and up the hills to you.
I sat out from shore with a few dried men
shrunk too small for our clothes, our shoes,
and watched you taken under
all day long
while the mountains spilled like suns
and the gods’ sun lowered
into faceless red ocean
and the thing was complete
and a night blew up,
and a wind.
We turned ourselves and passed the Pillars.
I know you would have me
bring something rescued
to a land we may or may not reach,
and bring it bravely
but the bravery itself
is all I’ve rescued
and it does me as much good
as my love does now.
Behind my back
where the fear went down with the love
the world burns
not for a sign or teaching
and not to marry its black element
to a last or first light
but because world swallowed you and you world
and drowned or undrowned,
Share this page: