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Island Chains
Nukumea Island, Eastern Pacific, March 21, 1869

Rinsed in ship colors and the island shadow,
the sea contains us.

Ahead lie miles of tropical green raveled around a raft of stone,
a conference of slow travelers in a bright blue halo, facing outwards.

Cadres of flying fish and dolphins show us the tops of their water loops
in bow wash that strings out like froth from a fast horse.

Sea birds swoop and dart around butterflies lit orange by the afternoon sun.
They drifted too far from land.

Pantomimer clouds tug at hair pulls on the peaks
– mouthing clues, looking wild, saying nothing.

Muffled drums thump the air in high valleys.
Hard shades in the water give way to deeper greens and blues.

Skating on azure glass, the ship slips by grass hatted huts,
coconut mounds, and cooking fires set in short lines.

Tiny figures gesticulate up and down the beach, gangloading canoes,
waving red cloth and a tattooed sail. Semaphores for what?

Paddling hard from the margins, seaborne sticks and men,
anticipating us as we anticipate them.

Was Mendaña here? Melville? Will escape be necessary?
The Captain readies cannonfire as a precaution.

No one speaks the language. We are prisoners of our own device,
shackled to history. Links with locks, I think, as the anchor drops.
                                                                                                                 No keys.