Tag Archives: Van Rensslear

Twenty Four Islands : Poem

My poem Twenty-four Islands was awarded The Van Rensselear Poetry Prize for Lyric Poetry by Columbia University in 2009.

Twenty-four Islands
No 1
This island is inhabited by Turtles,
Flowering shrubs linger past the drift stalks
Sea shells flock the debris
This is the island where I forgot my sweater
That summer my breasts began to grow
The beach evenings were cool
I wore shorts and my legs were bare

Island No 2
Black sand frills purple hills
Island plum trees
At night, insects dine on fallen fruits
Intoxicated by sugar
Sated by dreaming
The Island where I lit a fire
Inspiration heavy eyes
I slept on the beach, warmed by flames

Island No 3
The honeycomb land of caves!
Thread throughout, a Chinese puzzle
Each flower framed
White like ivory
Blue insect husks flutter
The island where I journey inward

Island No 4
The island is bird swarmed
Scream from treetops
Trees sheaved in aqua leaves
Smacking parrot beaks kiss together
Seed shells shimmer in the clearings
Discarded by dissident birds gangs of
Yellow Island in a black sea disappears at night
Last boat won’t linger

Island No 5
Fruit fed hogs run delinquent squealing
Break bushes, graze bark with bristles
Hog hair paints skyline
Swamps, feeding flies
Line truffle raped hillsides
This is the island that calls for fire but has none

Island No 6
A flat island given to floods
Home to small interior lakes
Tse flies swarm and no man of heart ventures in land
The flies mists too dense
Block stars
Three dogs roll to stop the bites
Drive them mad
The transvestite’s canoe brings scraps
The weather turns dry
This is the island where I left my notes on Aristides

Island No 7
This is the island where terrible things happened to the young Florimund sisters
A memory, Thank god
Hut stands empty
Snakes in roof and the pots are full of mold
The sky gold at night
And the jasmine flowers smell sickly
The island smells of babies

Island No 8
This is the island where the grandmothers hid
From poets new, (me)
Drinking Portuguese wine and smoking Cuban cigars
Smoke on hills
The train station is shuttered
Holy Oaks whisperings floated sea
The women stay indoors

Island No 9
The place of the holy springs
Lily white sins turn black
Guilt rides big horse, looks from under big brim
My sisters walked into the sea to marry mer- men
Or drown on sanctity
Cell phone stops working
Sand got into it
Rinsing made it blacker
Island of dark Iris.

Island No 10
Empty boats fill quays and on the hill a watches them
Ancient fellow scowls at the skips
Ripple-bob beads on a string
Dawn tide daily murmur
Bear a bream of unaccounted names
The dame of the sea, the salty girl, my sisters

This is the island where I bought a telescope, I walked coast spray mist
Monkeys hang out in deserted cabanas
Mock humans, my sisters, my friends, my monkeys, my island

Island No 11
Graves on the hillside are littered by plums
Orchard hangs over a terraced garden run amok
Go where you would see
The graves are tidy, tended well,
Beach stones shine brightly and catch the sun
Mirrors flashing across the sea
Morse messages from the dead
White path cuts up
A few goats zigzag nanny, nanny, “Sappho was here”
They were poets who over reached
Where I cried for my family

Island No 12
Cat’s tails wave together Chinese plate jugglers
Thin and gaunt, eyes demand knowledge
Lovers hunt
Threadbare smiling kitties
Till dark to roust mice from the ivy
They piss and shit
Giant flies bejewel their turds
The sun beats the patchy lawns

Island No 13
This is the island where names are changed
(Ariel cries for Prospero)
The Scottish play
Harry is Harriet and Sally is jack
This is the island where the deaf blind woman teach the secret language
These islands disconnected from logic, defined by lack of connection,
The animals and ships ferry stories to and fro.

Island No 14 is the face of Christ when viewed from the west.
From the east a small Buddha sits in the water.
Happy on one side, sad on the other.

Island No 15
This island empty baby baskets hang in bamboos
I left my child there
The one that was not born
The one I dreamed of at night
The one to be a brother
The one to argue with his brother about Proust
And the stars
Who lied about all the books he read till questioned closely
And then laugh with corny yellow hair and corn flower eyes
Lips like poppies in the summer

Island No 16
This is the island of empty crosses
The crucifix’ mark missed chances
Wrack the pain of unwritten tales
Bleached away poems of stretched skin nailed on them
As if they never were because they never were
The mottos written in the language no one knows
Escaped words of woman with no memory who sits at foot of the hill
Sings each line once
In lines freed again
You can wait a lifetime to hear it.

Island No 17
Hair hangs from trees
It is my sisters’ lost hair
My lost hair
Women’s hair given unwillingly away.
Hair torn by poets frustrated
It is the hair given to common sense and nice workable bobs
For jobs we did not want nor care for
For reasons that were alien to our hearts
These hairs were cut when I pretended to be a man a boy to gain a foothold
These tresses came out in sickness
Turned grey and sat in the horror hand in clumps
Ringed the bathtub caught in the scum of fear
They are thick on the island
Stretching as far as eyes can see

This island waits for you to come.

Island No 18.
This is the island of toothless mares,
They hobble bone- bare up stony paths to the hills
The meadows are sweeter on high
The grasses softer, gentler on the gums
Their drooped heads find the grass easily
Good because the climb is hard
At dusk descend to flinty sheds
Leeward from the wind

Island No 19.
These mares are strong and have ripped the tits from milking mothers
Pass by
Rage like this is not easily shaken
Stop, anger
Dream for those who have earned their night mares
Flare their nostrils from the stench
Trample the strongest psyches
Harridan horses leap into volcano pit
And come out their teeth filled with bloody screams and fire
Hooves pounding like drums in the ears
Flanks flashing like knives
This is the island of too much fire

Island No 20.
This is the island of x where things break
Plates and pencils, nibs that never write for snapping and
Porcelain statues and teacups and mothers and me- everything breaks
Dog’s legs, flower stalks and membranes
And watch- straps, oaths and you and eggs
Models with lolly sticks or matches, and codes,
And my fucking heart- computers, syntax and the middle c key on the piano

Island No 21.
This is the island of stupid girls who think it’s all right, everything is good and it isn’t
It isn’t a bit
The island where stupid girls deny reality
The island where stupid girls think its okay to pretend the world is fucking nice for women that it’s all over and it never was a big deal
This is the island where stupid girls choke on their own pompous words and are so dumb they don’t notice they are being buggered and fucked from both sides because the are not moving because they cannot turn
They cannot look, they dare not breathe, because they know they are fuckadentally flawed.
This is the island where those who complain are ridiculed by the stupid women
It is a drag to be on this island and anyway it’s barely real and walking into it is like walking into a big empty cunt.

To me this island feels overcrowded.

Island No 22
Is where the girls dance for themselves
Don’t know what it looks like because me too I just dance there
No eyes to care
But it does feel good I’ll tell you that
We dance there till our mouths water with the taste of bread
Saliva fills our mouths and we breathe blossoms wafts
Colors in the head fly round down the spine
I love my skin yes I do
I love to move
My feet
Oh my sisters I cry for you who never danced for yourself

Island No 23
Has a velvet rope and doesn’t let people in unless they are cool or on the list
Drinks with fruit in them, champagne
From the air it is shaped like Dante’s rings
Difficult to get in to the interior circle
You have to be really special
Beatrice avoids the place says it’s as crowded as hell and
She tends to be right

Island No twenty four
Is as tiny as rose bud and its sands are pink tinged
And the sea around it is filled with carmine kelp
Its sea shells are baby fingers curled in sleep
Three virgins cry milk instead of tears
Trees sway soft visitors look backward through telescopes
It’s a good place to have a jolly good cry when you are tuckered out.

And then we could talk about the reef but that’s for another day.
Maybe Sunday.