Holding Proteus | Robin Robertson
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.