On Cumberland

From Cottonlandia, by Rebecca Black, won the 2004 Juniper Prize for Poetry.

When we go to the island,
I’m a native salvaging ingots
and iron bells from the wreck,

kid Caliban in poncho and sandals.
We might have set driftwood
and weeds into a quick mosaic,

or buried my brother up to his eyes
in the sand, starfish hardening
into their own caskets at his feet

so that he could be born again
from mud and sawgrass.
Coastline battered by memory —

the steel baron’s fire-ruined
manor was our refuge
from a storm even the wild

horses couldn’t weather.
The first sailors hurricaned
on this risen Atlantis

covered native women in moss
woven into a delicate mail
for decency’s sake, bartered

deerskin for mirrors
which warriors wore
like medals or garlands

around their necks.
Imagine only seeing yourself
in the dark pupils of your mother

as she tethers your hair
in ragged linen,
then the hammered tin confusion
of a separate self.

From Cottonlandia, by Rebecca Black, who won the 2004 Juniper Prize for Poetry from the University of Massachusetts Press. Black is a lecturer in English at SCU.

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