Holding Proteus | Robin Robertson

by kimwwilson

Becamled here

on this salt beach far from home,

my boat blisters and flakes in the sun;

it has forgotten the sea

as I have forgotten the sea’s purpose,

which is to change.

Sea-voyager, law-maker, warrior,

I walk in my own footprints now

around this island,

around myself, waiting for wind, trying 

to hazard the heart’s meridian,

a draught of air, a star to steer by.

My hands have been still for so long

they can’t tell what they hold.

I’ve tried to buy the wind with coins

thrown from the water’s edge, whistled

till my lips were raw, taken a whip

to the ship’s boy, cut a pig’s throat

with my own sword, sung

each of the supplicant songs,

untied all the magic knots in the cord

– no breeze, no wind, no storm.

The sea is deadpan.

I have worshipped the wrong gods.

I fall asleep over my book

of maps and legends, and I am char,

I am the fire-flags in the ashes of the field,

black-drowned in the marl-pit,

the unstrung heretic crouched in marram.

I am that rocking grief, those numb limbs.

I am the child, abandoned on the beach.

You turn, in my arms, to a deer,

a dolphin, shivering aspen, tiger eel,

lithe root of flame and broken water.

I hold you fast, until you are flesh again,

seal-herder, seer, sea-guardian:

you who can only tell the truth,

show me how to find a fresh wind

and a safe harbour.

I wake to sea-storm, sunstorm, bright waves;

the sea-wind tearing pages from my book.