Originally published in The Speed of Darkness (1968)
Horizon of islands shifting
Sea-light flame on my voice
burn in me
flows from the water from sands islands of this horizon
The sea comes toward me across the sea. The sand
moves over the sand in waves
between the guardians of this landscape
the great commemorative statue on one hand
—the first flight of man, outside of dream,
seen as stone wing and stainless steel—
and at the other hand
banded black-and-white, climbing
the spiral lighthouse.
Floor over ocean,
avalanche on the flat beach. Pouring.
Indians holding branches up, to
placate the tempest,
the one-legged twisting god that is
a standing wind.
Rays are branching from all things:
great serpent, great plume, constellation:
sands from which colors and light pass,
the lives of plants. Animals. Men.
A man and a woman reach for each other.
Wave of the sea.
Sands have washed, sea has flown over us.
Between the two guardians, spiral, truncated wing,
history and these wild birds
Bird-voiced discoverers : Hariot, Hart Crane,
the brothers who watched gulls.
“No bird soars in a calm,” said Wilbur Wright.
Dragon of the winds forms over me.
Your dance, goddesses in your circle
sea-wreath, whirling of the event
behind me on land as deep in our own lives
we begin to know the movement to come.
Sunken, drowned spirals,
Shifting of islands on this horizon.
The cycle of changes in the Book of Changes.
Two islands making an open female line
That powerful long straight bar a male island.
The building of the surf
between the pale flat Sound
and ocean ever
birds as before earthquake
winds fly from all origins
the length of this wave goes from the great wing
down coast, the barrier beach in all its miles
road of the sun and the moon to
a spiral lighthouse
to the depth turbulence
lifts up its wave like cities
the ocean in the air
spills down the world.
A man is walking toward me across the water.
From far out, the flat waters of the Sound,
he walks pulling his small boat
In the shoal water.
A man who is white and has been fishing.
Walks steadily upon the light of day
Coming closer to me where I stand
looking into the sun and the blaze inner water.
Clear factual surface over which he pulls
a boat over a closing quarter-mile.
Speak to it, says the light.
Speak to it music,
voices of the sea and human throats.
Origins of spirals,
the ballad and original sweet grape
dark on the vines near Hatteras,
tendrils of those vines, whose spiral tower
now rears its light, accompanying
all my voices.
He walks toward me. A black man in the sun.
He now is a black man speaking to my heart
crisis of darkness in this century
of moments of this speech.
The boat is slowly nearer drawn, this man.
The zigzag power coming straight, in stones,
in arcs, metal, crystal, the spiral
in sacred wet
schematic elements of
cities, music, arrangement
spin these stones of home
under the sea
return to the stations of the stars
and the sea, speaking across its lives.
A man who is bones is close to me
drawing a boat of bones
the sun behind him
is another color of fire,
the sea behind me
rears its flame.
A man whose body flames and tapers in flame
twisted tines of remembrance that dissolve
a pitchfork of the land worn thin
flame up and dissolve again
draw small boat
Nets of the stars at sunset over us.
This draws me home to the home of the wild birds
long-throated birds of this passage.
This is the edge of experience, grenzen der seele
where those on the verge of human understanding
the borderline people stand on the shifting islands
among the drowned stars and the tempest.
“Everyman’s mind, like the dumbest,
claws at his own furthest limits of knowing the world,”
a man in a locked room said.
Open to the sky
I stand before this boat that looks at me.
The man’s flames are arms and legs.
Body, eyes, head, stars, sands look at me.
I walk out into the shoal water
and throw my leg over the wall of the boat.
At one shock, speechlessness.
I am in the bow, on the short thwart.
He is standing before me amidships, rowing forward
like my old northern sea-captain in his dory.
All things have spun.
The words gone,
I facing sternwards, looking at the gate
between the barrier islands. As he rows.
Sand islands shifting and the last of land
a pale and open line horizon
With whose face did he look at me?
What did I say? or did I say?
mover to the change.
These strokes provide the music,
and the accused boy on land today saying
What did I say? or did I say?
The dream on land last night built this the boat of death
but in the suffering of the light
moving across the sea
do we in our moving
move toward life or death
Hurricane, skullface, the sky’s size
winds streaming through his teeth
doing the madman’s twist
and not a beach not flooded
stability of light
my other silence
and at my left hand and at my right hand
no longer wing and lighthouse
no longer the guardians.
They are in me, in my speechless
life of barrier beach.
As it lies open
to the night, out there.
Now seeing my death before me
starting again, among the drowned men,
desperate men, unprotected discoverers,
and the man before me
Stroke by stroke drawing us.
Out there? Father of rhythms,
deep wave, mother.
There is no out there.
All is open.
Open water. Open I.
The wreck of the Tiger, the early pirate, the blood-clam’s
ark, the tern’s acute eye, all buried mathematical
instruments, castaways, pelicans, drowned five-
strand pearl necklaces, hopes of livelihood,
hopes of grace,
walls of houses, sepia sea-fences, the writhen octopus and
those tall masts and sails,
marked hulls of ships and last month’s plane, dipping his salute
to the stone wing of dream,
turbulence, Diamond Shoals, the dark young living people:
“Sing one more song and you are under arrest.”
“Sing another song.”
Women, ships, lost voices.
Whatever has dissolved into our waves.
I a lost voice
moving, calling you
on the edge of the moment that is now the center.
From the open sea.
© Muriel Rukeyser