Three for the Western Island Feb22


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Three for the Western Island

Three for the Western Island

Susan Edwards Richmond

Published in Vol. 5 Issue 2 of Written River


I.  Flying Mountain

Cedar, spruce, pine,
roots twist and pile, writhe
up the mountain,
low open forest, dead branches,
blowdown. Our girls
scramble ahead.

The climb is steep and quick.
A swallowtail darts at the tree line,
at the top, splay-tailed juncos
explode the low branches.
A young couple has hiked here
to read and stretch and talk.

A marker claims the summit – 284 feet.
How can we see so far from such a modest height?
It’s all position, the way the peak peers
over the promontory, giddy distance,
water at our feet, the way
the high, soft clouds receive the light.

Later I will hold the map in my hands,
name the island at the foot of the slope,
the sound, the rock-scrabble shore.
Now, I want only to concentrate
myself, a solid being
finding foothold on granite and root.

We are shadowed, descending,
but unaware, as our daughters,
crouched in hiding, slip softly
behind, the crush of their footsteps
over moss-covered trail
never quite reaching us.

A fritillary flattens its wings
against stone. We inherit
the warblers’ low buzz.
In that other life, I am diffuse.
It would not take too strong a wind
to blow me away.


II.  Hermit Thrush

notes start in a high
attic of the brain, melody
sliding down skull’s curved bone
into the cord of the spine.

First on one side of the path,
then on the other, the filament
plucks and pulls across the chest,
anchored in fern and pine.

Rustling betrays a single singer,
movements too methodical for any
squirrel. When it starts from the leaves
and flies, chestnut pours across mosaic floor.

The second singer, concealed,
continues unbroken, and you wait
for an answer, your body
a tuning fork struck by each tone.

The first bird perches on slanted trunk,
a spruce fallen, then caught
by neighboring arms, the limbs a spiral
of bristle brushes, the bird among them.

Thrush song has always been
one with the wooded damp, equal parts
moss and canopy, bolete and bark,
the high-wire dance of a sprung twig.

But here it is so close
you can see the quivering of its throat
above the speckled breast, pulsing,
engaging no other movement,

as later, you might write these lines
to your unseen mate, the only evidence
your own ear – deep, deep in the forest dark –
though you know he is right here.

for Ilana and Dan


III.     Wonderland

Untethered, fanning out from a pulse point
anchored to land, we venture: one daughter crawling as close
as she can, reaching into brine; the other, following invisible lines
above the worst of spray, meandering as a snail;
my husband, somewhere in between, backpack trundling what
we’ll need – fresh water, sunscreen – to extend our stay.

Out and out we walk, reel-less, unguided. We stay
to see how far we can go. Isn’t that the point?
Skipping, leaping, island to island, wading when we must, as what
we steady ourselves against with hips and fingertips comes close
to crushing each depression’s sea: filigree shrimp, whirligigs, snails,
the limpet’s clinging kiss, barnacles’ craggy lines.

It’s not our last day, but we already see the faintest outlines
emerging, the edges of our freedom, defining what will stay
within its delicate walls, coiled in the whorls of a snail.
One daughter moves through her own stories, the point
a vast backdrop, props secondary to drama, the doors that close,
windows open. For the other, objects are her beads, what

she ties on lengths of hemp and weaver’s floss, what
ever trickles through her fingers. Her father meets her at an altar of lines
defined by mussel shells. They select a periwinkle pair, clothes
of barnacle sealed to their backs, a veil of seaweed, tied to make it stay,
a limpet yarmulke, and driftwood chuppah coming to a point
above the bride and groom. “You may kiss the snail.”

No photograph can capture the diminutive bliss of this snail
wedding, the ocean its own consuming film. What
imprints the brain is a series of stills, saved to no other point.
I rise from my seat of stone, sight lines
scanning to the edge and back. The sea will no longer stay.
A sandal in each hand, I gesture inland as waters draw close.

The tide has turned, that visceral metaphor. As it closes
in, my husband, daughter wave from their promontory, snail
wedding concluded. Guests already flee to higher ground or stay
submerged, holding fast. They leap in laughter, splashing over what
footholds they can find. My older daughter steps carefully, over lines
filling in around mirrored pools, guiding us to the base of the point,

to the point where land will not be lost except to fiercest storms. Close
behind, I follow her fluid music, snail pressed to the ear, lines
of demarcation still unclear, what will vanish, what will stay.

Note:  “Three for the Western Island” refers to the western section of Mt. Desert Island, Maine, which is quieter and less frequented by tourists. Flying Mountain and Wonderland are locations in Acadia National Park.


Susan Edwards Richmond’s poetry collections include Increase, Birding in Winter, Purgatory Chasm, and Boto. She is on the board of the Robert Creeley Foundation and organizes poetry events for Old Frog Pond Farm & Studio in Harvard, MA.