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ISLANDS NORTH AND SOUTH

Thule Explorer

This seven sonnet Crown seems like the form best suited for singing the praises of the northwest coast of Greenland. We kayak by day tackling the restive sea ice, sleep beside glaciers and bathe in the precious light. Here, the known boundary between Self and Nature melts. There is no turning back.

Place of No Dawn

Do you see that coming – out there over the sea?
The dark coming up. The great Dark.


  Fixed stars
drill holes in the black sky. Nightglow makes mystery
of endless night, the black-white midday: the sun hard
to hold. Blindness slides into perleroneq, breaches
the riven mind.
Compose yourself.

  When ice is good
there’s always light, and from the shore beyond the reach
the hunter sees the water still and knows the ice
is coming in. Twenty sled dogs fanned, traces taut,
they slalom round the towering floes. The scale grand –
distances hard to calculate that never felt the weight
of human foot or animal.

  Ah ta ta ta ta, he sang
to his dogs, faster, go faster.

  I am clearing the way,
I am sweeping it clean – the adamantine underlay.

Ice’s Rhyme

There is music under the roof of the world. Hear
the sonic, rich, blue heft of note to chord
through quietness distilled, the frozen boom to air
of glaciers disembowelling – slow continents adored

by silence. Miniatures appose the icequake’s fragmenting core –
plush meadow’d pools, a summer song of mosses hum.
A drop of dew. Sweet muddle in the ear restores
the oasis of the explicit world, its brimming sum

of equilibrium. Once more in open sea the pull
of paddling reels my thoughts, we cross a line
of sunlight and black water. Shore-cliffs ruled
by shadow, signifying winter. When ice’s rhyme

completes the soul’s warmth whole villages embark,
divining, It is the dark coming up. The great Dark.


The Lemon Trees…

This suite began as a love poem to our guide Nuncio Cosentino, who described Sicily as an island where Lemon Trees Bloom in Winter. Exhausted after flying all night, this quote of Goethe’s coming at 7.30 am swept me away. Sicily is a stretch I wrote, as Nuncio opened our eyes and ears to the timeless footsteps of the conquerors — to the root and flower of words.

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CHILD’S PLAY

  Como se dice? Making room in my mouth for vowels that smile.
C’s sounding like che lingering on the tongue,
like Via Ficano, Porcello, Celauro.
Vibrations of R. Rissolé or risotto.

As if I was a child, Nunzio taps the syllables
“la vo ra re” on my outstretched fingers to fix
in memory the infinitive “to work.” “Sing it,” he says.
Teacher and guide, he laces fact
with the root and flower of words,
shows how they’ve been colonized by conquerors⎯
from Arabic ziz to zagara now,
transliteration proving the world is round.

OLD WORDS

Cathedral doors are opened wide on this Eve of St. Agnes, in-
viting the faithful, packed in now and kneeling mostly, in the
nave’s blazing white belly. Rain falls on my hair, my shadow spill-
ing down the steps of Catania’s Duomo. Night coils the damp air
in ropes of sound, braiding the hawkers’ yammer with the shiver of Sanctus bells and priests’ intoning Kyrie Eleison, Kyrie Eleison.

Yesterday, I saw a painting of the Saint, her severed breasts kin-
dling my sudden grief. And tomorrow her likeness will be elevated
above the heads of the people in a procession of a thousand feet
of winding streets. They will lean into the moan of her relics,
barefoot and penitent. Her veil will save them once again from earthquakes and Mt. Etna’s black rage. Rituals help us find the way in.
The fragrance of candles. My mind on its knees with the immensity of old words and incense. Dazzled by the priests in white, small beyond the distance of arches.

From Reviews:

I found Rosemary Clewes' poems in Islands North and South stunning! Who knew there was so much song and sound in Greenland's glaciers? Their enormity and elemental form lend themselves so naturally to the structure and formality of the sonnet. And the repetition of the last line of one poem as the first line of the next seems to match the flow of water and how everything around her was perhaps blending together as "the boundary between myself and Nature sometimes wavers and melts away" as James Cowan puts it so eloquently in the epigraph.

"Where Lemon Trees Bloom in Winter" contains enchanting and intelligent poems. Again, so much music as well as references to the sea so that both sets of poems (paradoxically) fit together beautifully.
~ Wendy Fulton Steginsky