by Morgan Stewart
I don’t remember how long you were with me
--was it a month? seven months?--
before you took to snapping your eyelids shut to guard
yourself against poisonous sights,
against me and the things I would say. Now you
are gone, you’ve taken to telling the story of how
I turned men into pigs. Sailors, soldiers,
good men. Back home, you tell people I am a witch because
there are no words in Greek for the parts of me
that were foreign to you and because
naming them would be a kind of betrayal.
I appreciate that. On the last day,
you finally looked at me as you got up
from the grass bed, and I was focusing on how the dead skin pealed
at your shoulders and nape, on the moth wing lace of it,
when you told me –so dramatic,
starting something-- how I had made a pig out of you,
not considering that it’s possible
you came to me that way. It is not too bad for me
because my life never revolved around
finding you. So it did not end when you told me
There is a woman I love. I have to go back to her.
So for a moment my center went hollow and wooden, a dead tree center,
at the prospect of loneliness but also for the sake
of the woman you love who has a house
full of your choices and no island. The weight of her reputation:
She is so loyal. She weaves cloth that is so white and so straight
while I squat on this beach, threading a fish spine through lotuses to make a chain.
It falls apart. The tide tongues in, the black pig gallops through surf,
the volcanic rock tumbles, so I grab it, mash dried peppers;
I light bonfires. Because my life never revolved around
avoiding war or waging war, it’s fair to say I never understood
(I hurt only the ones who showed up on their own).
Because my life was a slow walk alone through the labyrinth
of shells and bugs, lichen and olives, sandy lizards,
all this-- enough to study for five hundred years
and never finish, too much for you because you land
on all kinds of shores but never learned how to explore
one island. You have no eye for detail
unless you’re strategizing. With you, it was all about drama and your big
brain. There were times, though, that you joined my walk and my feast
of only foods that can be held between the thumb and forefinger,
times you did laugh at the boom of your own voice or
at my bitten lip the way the beam laughs at leaves
by entering them. Beams did pierce the canopy that quivered
above the beds you joined me in making, in messing
before rising early for one of your big-stride, long-view days.
You rose like time was something to be consumed before it spoiled.
It’s fair to say that I have remembered you unfairly,
incompletely, so please know that at least I can still picture
those ruddy mornings, your shadow long
on the sand when you ran for the husk
of your ship to shoo the filth-caked pigs looking for a cool spot,
to hurl each crab that clacked on the green boards and curse
each bird that shat on the wasted sails, your shoulders square,
burnt. If I want, I can picture it: how you burned through the day
with your hunting, trying to find a way out --finding me out, too--
and returning with fistfuls of caught fish and pronouncements
brimming with boom, your lips parting for them, for teeth, and later
other things. You took to rearranging objects,
arranging crops in rows, chipping sharp stones out of dull ones,
even collected some shells, even painted some
with no soldiers to see, just the witch who did far stranger things.
You were learning to like me: how I carried my own stone knife,
how I did not want to be your wife, how I could wander
the quake of forest and night without you.
Most people needed your strength; I just wanted it,
so how you burned through the night, and you were the red hot sky
of bleeding comets and the rose of dawn, moving over me
the way you moved when you were a captain over the water: naturally.
then one of those days came to find you finally slumped
at the nose of the boat corpse, talking to the pigs like they had names,
and maybe that was the moment that woke you—
you were behaving they way I do. After that, more and more,
you’d be there, watching the clouds, the shore, the sea, no curses,
no pronouncements. Burnt and square.
You were strategizing. And that did not feel fair,
but I let you go, let my center go, starved for the sake
of a feeling both cloven and cleaving, rough-skinned and low-rooting
for a while --only a while, though, before the island entered me
through my face and fingers, the island of loam
in callous grooves and wool snagged on thorns, the island
as full of perfumes and calls as it was before you
ever came calling. But back home
you tell everyone, show everyone, the things you learned
from all kinds of shores, while I still sit like a scorch mark on this one,
and you never say it, but you know. You know
that I could still show you some edible flowers I discovered
by following the train of raggedy sheep; they gives me fibers to spin
though there are no wheels here. I have my own ways
which I would show you only after pointing out pools
full of fish –javelining one another with their bodies,
squeezing out an egg gloom—and then how ripples can rupture
our faces. Smoke signals can reach you, enter your lungs,
and close them.
Lotus ropes can pull ships in, and I can show you
wild pigs, the littlest ones spotted and scrambling
for milk from shade bathed mothers, and what did you mean when you said
I made you a pig? I study their mud baptisms,
the gamble for fermented figs, the dry cave quest in winter.
I participate. There’s the brown one who ran from me
faster than I’ve ever seen a pig run, the blind one
who moved his snout to my calf, let me smooth the wire
poking from his back, but the one I know best is black
and small and spiky like my love in the night
still is. Daily replacing the hoof prints the waves take,
she is stronger than she seems.
In hurricane season, sometimes instead of burrowing
into the warm pile of her siblings, she comes to nuzzle me
with tusks, and elsewhere on the island all the other wild pigs
dream and squirm --leave and stay-- and you
have nothing in common with any of them.