Poetry / March 2012 (Issue 16)


by Judith Huang

The day they came the island was a mist
the ship a stain. He could not command
the elements then; they stormed him wild
in drift he came to isle, the dark depths spat
him like some infernal womb. Silver-scaled
the sea writhed, the rain was wet and warm
the wet was one long vowel of sound
They were new-birthed then, frail, brittle-
boned and pale, a mess of skeleton
animate in the lightning storm. They
gasped the dust, him clutching with two arms
his dusty bundle, his magisterial robes
were fluttering, ripped by the whirling wind
The ship had drowned, swallowed by the whale
of gaping shore, the rocks were stained
with wood.

From all around the birdsong came to play
the cries of scarlet birds with stone-black beaks
berry-stained with undulating tongues
the bright eyes flicker yellow in the dark
lush, lush, the whispers of the palms:
the washed isle is drenched in birth
the dim-skinned huts are clutching
storm-tossed froth, clearing up the eye
And I, watching wary from my rock, of noble
birth, my regal belly stooped to face the ground
the dark muscular sinews of my arms
clawed as any talon. I cast my yellow eye
and watch the white man straggle up
the shore, waking to the balming
sash of sun, watch as their pale eyes
watch the arid endless sky
I hear their groans, their sibilants
of air

Within my dark breast I saw the earth
of these strange creatures, felt their fear
black mirror of my own, and touched
a paw to the flailing hand
behind the back of our tyrannous queen
Hungrily he suckled from the fruit
drank of the blood I flayed from my own skin
and colour rushed into his sallow cheeks
I saw he had with him a little one
and brought to him the lightest leaves
Its little wails were sealed in reddened
balm, and these would medicine
to that sweet sleep that drowns the isle
in somnambulant mist

And so the pale beasts grew in strength
and wore the green leaved fibres as a robe
his whelp he kept with undulating words
and the red juice of twisted betel nut
and in his cave were dusky leather books.
In years my eyes betrayed my love
for the fair small one, her eyes of summer green
in nights I dreamt of her sundrenched hair
which I would intertwine in tongue and tongue
I grew weak with moons, and he held
my love by my tender nape, and I
poor fool, let him hold me there
thought he would by my love be made
heir of my isle

For these pale creatures I my queen betrayed
for love to her was a kind of slavery
I flicked my tongue with glee at his embrace
when boiling down her shrieks of pain arose
but little did I know the ground was blood –
the molten gold of my black land was drained
for this, her death, and bubbled up again
when I, her son, could fight and so expel
the new pale tyrant of our nestling isle
of this ancient magic I knew not
I was enslaved, in chains of siren-air
in threads of sibilants from his silky tongue
I knew it not; I worshipped him and her
and cared not for my own dark mother's cries

I was a fool to think to win her love
she was divine, come from some far off sun
and guarded by a castrated airy demon
a sprite of air, similarly enslaved
to my good man. I offered her the sweetest
figs and flowers, the red clay earth
that fell in mystic petals; of bark and stone
I honed the tin-bird skulls
and jewelled claws I carved the dainty beads
With my dark paws I taught her secret
codes; the scratch and scuttle of our island
tongue. But to these things the green eyes
were impervious; she sang still in her
strange melodic tongue. Yet slowly her
soft girlhood ripened red, and while
she would not love, she took for lust –

Tongue. Tongue: you will not believe
the rivers dripping from the craven one
when daddy came in I was the instant villain
Remember the green scream, girl
it was a lie; the dreams of every girl
of age: reform. Reform the dark one
teach me how to cuss, teach me the
geography of the hungry little mouth
the shapes it fills. She was a wonder then
the innocent one, unschooled and yet
the jewels of her face were city eyes
for Caliban is coiled and dark of skin
for Caliban stoops on a cunning spine
and darling we would not want the isle
to crawl with us, with greeneyed
creeping ones

Ariel was released, but what of me?
Milan could do with such a sorry sight
Remind the glitter city that its own
green vagrants are not the poorest ones
They have forgot that I was once a prince
who could command, that Ariel
was my slave, that every glistering berry
bore my name. And if I had been chained
to my own isle, for exile is the deepest
road to take, then I'm afraid,
for slavened once, I could never rule again
My own face in the water now seems pale
the tongue will not entangle its soft words
my half-moon eyes will pools of envy make
my stoop will always stand for the servile

No one can bring to life my earthen queen
for she is buried deep within the land
whose wood has long already full been bled
whose shrieks are lost in some lost mothertongue.
Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
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All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.