Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs? Where is your tribal memory? Sirs, in that grey vault. The sea. The sea has locked them up. The sea is History. First, there was the heaving oil, heavy as chaos; then, like a light at the end of a tunnel, the lantern of a caravel, and that was Genesis. Then there were the packed cries, the shit, the moaning: Exodus. Bone soldered by coral to bone, mosaics mantled by the benediction of the shark's shadow, that was the Ark of the Covenant. Then came from the plucked wires of sunlight on the sea floor the plangent harps of the Babylonian bondage, as the white cowries clustered like manacles on the drowned women, and those were the ivory bracelets of the Song of Solomon, but the ocean kept turning blank pages looking for History. Then came the men with eyes heavy as anchors who sank without tombs, brigands who barbecued cattle, leaving their charred ribs like palm leaves on the shore, then the foaming, rabid maw of the tidal wave swallowing Port Royal, and that was Jonah, but where is your Renaissance? Sir, it is locked in them sea-sands out there past the reef's moiling shelf, where the men-o'-war floated down; strop on these goggles, I'll guide you there myself. It's all subtle and submarine, through colonnades of coral, past the gothic windows of sea-fans to where the crusty grouper, onyx-eyed, blinks, weighted by its jewels, like a bald queen; and these groined caves with barnacles pitted like stone are our cathedrals, and the furnace before the hurricanes: Gomorrah. Bones ground by windmills into marl and cornmeal, and that was Lamentations— that was just Lamentations, it was not History; then came, like scum on the river's drying lip, the brown reeds of villages mantling and congealing into towns, and at evening, the midges' choirs, and above them, the spires lancing the side of God as His son set, and that was the New Testament. Then came the white sisters clapping to the waves' progress, and that was Emancipation— jubilation, O jubilation— vanishing swiftly as the sea's lace dries in the sun, but that was not History, that was only faith, and then each rock broke into its own nation; then came the synod of flies, then came the secretarial heron, then came the bullfrog bellowing for a vote, fireflies with bright ideas and bats like jetting ambassadors and the mantis, like khaki police, and the furred caterpillars of judges examining each case closely, and then in the dark ears of ferns and in the salt chuckle of rocks with their sea pools, there was the sound like a rumour without any echo of History, really beginning.
“I would have gone back,” the voice full of shells, gravel, liquid washing stones, back meaning lost island or calendar, a thing rigged with bones unbending, unfolding past the hard symmetry of clocks, vertebrae of thought moving now in real time, home a word hollow as the bone of birds—tody, cling cling, gaulin, euphonia—“That dream was over.” Such oneiric geometry, “The Blue Room” built by Miles, his horn a grail from which you sup the saudade of marine might-have-been never-will-be, embouchure unthought, no better than Vidia for leaving. So we leave, skein of shadows, silent psalms for how our scourge was beauty, home; brightboys fleeing the estate for another on that other island, jolted by the freight of shame. Mas Hall, thanks for the company on the volte-face voyage, stingy-brim on which we sailed, migration of monarch butterflies. Landfall at Port of Avonmouth in a scene from Hardy, landfall at Tilbury Dock to step off the caravel in white gloves, stout ties, leave to remain vagrant. Lonely Oxonians together, oak hatch of the Bod we’d shade, then off to All Souls to cram for mods, toiling in Codrington we leaf through Thistlewood. And so we are marked. Is it Marx or Douglass with that beard? Bound to become Judas-Brutus, blood diamonds paid us in arrears to try the line of Hopkins, Auden, Eliot, Donne. Evensong at New Chapel to ease the medieval weight of failure in the refrain of white robes, one brown seraph alone: “O hear us when we cry to Thee for those in peril on the sea.” ’Gainst the towers most colored I feel, dear Stuart, in these duds, our hide, sub fusc aeternum. You grasp browning leaflets on the stump; O betraying beauty of brown: bankra, Barbancourt, Venetian ducats, dhalpuri, khaki, Gauguin. Remember the strange fog a night on Broad St. as if below Friedrich’s Wanderer? But, as you taught, who more Wanderer than we, the evicted on the victor’s turf, playing the past, loss a force centripetal? All praise to your mind a sextant, darklit as Diwali. You bless our kin severance. How I wish to forget your sister strapped to the sugar mill, charged with spoiling the color scheme: sedition. Ah, compay, even leaves of the croton sprout from our eyes. There is no going back. Thinking translucence you say, “Bend the stick,” different than Lenin or United Fruit. The rank of Bombay mangoes exceeds all migrations. The lignum vitae insists on itself. Navel string toughens to twine with the rhizome, portal in the ground.
—with Kara Springer’s “Repositioned Objects, I,” primer on wood.