Poetry: To the Islands | clivejames.com
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To the Islands

I will use the sound of wind and the splash
of the cormorant diving and the music
any boatman will hear in the running threads
as they sing about leaving for the Islands.

I will use the sinker's zinc arpeggio as it
rolls across a wooden jetty and the sound
of crabs in the shifting gravel and the scrape
of awls across the hulls of yachts.

I will use the wash-board chorus of the sea
and the boats and the skifler's skirl
of tide-steered surf taken out by the wind
through the cliffs. Look - I don't know

much about how to reach the Islands, only
what I've heard from the boatman's song
and from a man who walked the headland
to find a place in the rocks free of salt

and osprey. But perhaps I can use
the bladder-wrack and barnacle, the gull
wafting above the mussels and the bird
diving back to the sea. Perhaps I can use

the song sponge divers sing to time each dive
and then use their gasps as they lift
their bags onto the skiffs. Perhaps
the seapool whispers of the sun-downers,

or the terns above the harbour are what
the divers sing to as they hold their
breath and swim the silent minutes through
with prayer. I will use the gull's height

and the limpet's splash and the wasps' nest
hanging like a paper lamp under the pier
and the little boat sailing out. Even the
fisherman lugging shoals over the stones,

even the sailors shift-walking the decks,
even the end-blown note of a shell levelled
towards the horizon. I will use the eagle's
flight moored in the eyes of children

and the voices of men, the ones, they say,
who've made it, though perhaps the purlin
creaking on its rafter, the gull squawking
from the jetty, the wind calling

along the moorings and the notes the divers
hear in the quiet waters of their breathing
as the seek release through the depths
are all I'll know about finding the Islands.

Meanwhile, I'll use the sound of sunlight
filling the sponges and a diver's saturated
breathing in the lungs of an oarsman
rowing weightless cargo over the reefs.