The Atlas of Remote Islands written by Judith Schalansky is a great little book, a great book for poets especially. Each beautiful map of an island is accompanied by a few paragraphs of information; some technical, some scientific, some anecdotal. I wrote the following poem based on a story of one island in the book. But I used the name of a different island in the title. My copy of the Atlas is not in easy reach right now, but here are a few photos from the book and my poem, written years ago when I first received my copy. One of these days I’ll have to compile all of my sea-themed poems into a chapbook. Problem is I only write them occasionally.
Shipwrecked; Passion Island
The women had no choice but to fashion
a family, name strewn rock a trail
they could follow home. They dressed
each other’s wounds, sewed cormorant
feathers into garments with needles
of bone. Each carried a two-note whistle
from the keeled sternum of a gull.
The initial survivors numbered in the hundreds:
prisoners and their soft-fingered keepers,
clerks, botanists, orphans; the violent and the meek.
A microcosm of society foundered on the rocks;
the jagged south spit skewering their vessel.
Let’s reckon the rescue in decades.
The ship, when it reached them, no more
than batten boards taunting the sea, weather
congealing into dark eyes above and beneath.
By that time, there were seven women
and one baby, not yet weaned. A bright day
on the Pacific, 18th century. Legend says
the men diminished rapidly to five
and then to one, after a makeshift escape
boat capsized just outside the bay. Whereupon
the lone man declared himself king
and set about raping every woman in turn.
No one recalls the names of the women,
the babies born and buried.
The final seven we know only as a slim majority:
a steel blade and six knives made of shell.