Grade A: The Last Ship from Atlantis

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,

you burn.