The Poetry Porch 2: Poetry

Eight Poems by Richard Morris Dey

From The Bequia Poems(Macmillan Caribbean, 1988)

List of poems (selected by JW):

1. For Those About to Travel
2. Landfall: Granada
3. Squall
4. After Childmaking
5. Archipelago
6. Blue Hull II
7. From This Steep Hillside
8. Afterward

For Those About to Travel
by Richard Morris Dey

Journeys, those magic caskets full of
dreamlike promises, will never again
yield up their treasures untarnished.
Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques

The lesson is this, Traveler: in
another country mix
casually, accept a drink and offer
one, but do not feign
citizenship. Beyond suspicion in your ideals
and deeds, in another culture you
are always suspect. Giving a penny is buying
protection. Respect

their eyes. Though you can be anyone
you ever imagined, with any past or none, they
will watch you and know far better
than you with whom you go,
and where. Resign
yourself. You are a tourist, at best
a bungling sleuth. In
another culture you’ll never

know whom you offend, nor when. Beneath
the palm’s wistful icon of eternity, there
is a loud transistor radio, little
to eat, nowhere to go. Forget
your camera. The problem
is always to understand what you see—a brand
of beer, a boat unloading, a sly
look, a paper bag. There is no

escape, Traveler. What to bring? It
doesn’t matter. You can buy here what
you’ll need—except, of course,
the patience and an open mind. You’ll live
by the seat of your pants. Consider
yourself a guest, and once
you’re here you’ll
never believe you were anywhere else. But no
matter the ideas exchanged, love
expressed, values rearranged; no
matter your promises to return
or write, in another culture they know you
will not stay, that
you have a ticket, a passport,
another life. Who’s to blame? Neither yourself
nor them. Though in search

of a different life, you shed your watch and live
unaffectedly; though
you praise simplicity, unspoiled ways, in
another culture, watch out: when
you have come from
across the sea, out of the sky, they
will never understand why you say
their life is best. Taste

the gold in your teeth. You may suffer
the heady confusion of being from two
countries, or ten; you may
think yourself a voyager; but in
another culture, you are where
you’ve come from, and great pity it is
if you’ve come from across the bright sea, out
of the blue sky, from nowhere.

(© Whitecap Brothers, 1988.)
Return to list of poems.

Landfall: Grenada 
by Richard Morris Dey

1. Off Point Saline

First, against the star-shot sky, it’s seen darkly
beyond the angels who tread the spuming waves.
Slipping in, then out of view on the broad
horizon, its smudge appears to rise, yeast-like,
below a light now flashing. Half-awake though,

you can’t be sure—you’re so tired and the sea’s
so tireless, and the crossing made to windward.
But from the first there was no going against
the rivering sea. There were only watches ahead.
You sound the depths now shoaling like your years.

2. Off Grande Anse

There’s been a summer’s rainfall on the island.
The landbreeze comes cool and thick with barnyard cries,
with the smell of earth—of bloom, decay and spice.
It’s hard to find the harbor’s unmarked entrance.
At anchor, then, you have the sense of landfall

as a departure, of an exchange of seas.
With so much to do aboard the salt-worn ship
and the crickets hymning ‘Welcome, Voyager!’
the best preparing for the sandy carénage
and the channel in, in the first light, is sleep.

(This poem originally appeared in Poetry.)

(© Whitecap Brothers, 1988.)
Return to list of poems.

by Richard Morris Dey

You know how the rain comes all at once in curtains that
slant across the ridge top and down the vale, falling from the big
dark bank of thunderheaded clouds that breast the gusting
tradewinds, driving the white seas and sunlight before them, the
wild hilltop palms rearing like stallions, and how the people step
inside a rum shop, taxis pull over and the dust is spattered.

Islands in the distance disappear behind the curtains of
rain driving in, out of the northeast, across the uneasy, spume-
tossed channel. An old sail is blown out while, inland, the roof of
an old house is blown off. The wind unlatches doors, whistles
across bottle tops, makes old shells dance. In the yards strutting,
hungry roosters forget their scrawny selves, and the brown pigeon
peas rattle and sway if their roots, in the thin hillside soil, can
hold, and the mango and avocado pear swell toward ripeness.

You know how the rain sounds on the corrugated tin
rooftops and how the cisterns overflow if it’s not been a dry year,
and how suddenly all that was hot and glareful is moist and gray,
and your skin, in the lessening wind, shivers as if some hand had
chanced your hand, and the dust spatters; how, in the returning
sunlight, the palm fronds glisten like sweating flanks.

And then: how it’s gone as soon as it came, something
that seemed to promise a new or different world, and the whole
prospect of that world—a better world, maybe—real as the
rainbow left behind, in the squall’s blue wake.

(© Whitecap Brothers, 1988.)
Return to list of poems.

After Childmaking 
by Richard Morris Dey

As a single anonymous leaf
heart-shaped and green
in the rain forest
after a squall is wet
with single beads of water
glistening and large,
and then, in the returning light,
translucent, allowing
the light behind it and above
to pass through it
quivering as if
at the sound of monkeys,
and smelling in the enveloping mist
suddenly cool, renewed

so I stood on the veranda
in the play of shadow and light
after childmaking.

(© Whitecap Brothers, 1988.)
Return to list of poems.

by Richard Morris Dey

for David Perkins

You see how these poems are
like islands, each
with its own name, co-ordinates, topographical profile—
however unlikely,
that much about them is clear, I hope,
suggestive of settlement, an interior.

But should anyone ask why
this range of islands took a lifetime to chart
or why, after all the exploring,
there are so few islands in it,
say it’s because each discovery
came in something like a line squall,

at a cost I could not have foreseen.
Should I have been more content
in the city
among my contemporaries? Sailed
a different craft on another course? Say
the one in Freneau’s wake found in this archipelago

the right place for a man divided
in his faith between the land and sea,
and that for every island fixed
in the saltwind, dozens
had erupted before him before they were overwhelmed by
the dominant sea.

(© Whitecap Brothers, 1988.)
Return to list of poems.

Blue Hull II 
by Richard Morris Dey

Blue Hull, steel and under a cloud
of white sail, sailing the Carib Sea
across the brow of Venezuela, free,
swart, westward with the stern wind and proud;

white sail over whose song a wave,
cragged by the following seas, mountain-high
and windswept, broke: not then, Blue Hull, to die
but only see the black of the sea’s grave—

was it luck or light? And was it worth
the smashed ribs to watch an orange angel
descend the maelstrom sky? O battered Blue Hull,
is continuing sail for heaven or earth?

(This poem originally appeared in Harvard Magazine.)

(© Whitecap Brothers, 1988.)
Return to list of poems.

From This Steep Hillside 
by Richard Morris Dey

How can I know this, to tell
it’s happening? There is, we know,
rain in the east even

as we stand watching
from this steep hillside
the sunset’s iridescent sea.

We’ve met as people will here
but it’s not by chance entirely
we’re here now, feeling the sun

on our skins, is it? An air
cool and calm abstracts desire.
We finish drinking rums

as the squally dark overspreads
our undiscovered islands
wet, suddenly, and shivering

in the weather sheeting in.
In this harbor Sorrow has a mooring.
And the road down is steaming now.

(This poem originally appeared in The Harvard Advocate.)

(© Whitecap Brothers, 1988.)
Return to list of poems.

by Richard Morris Dey

She heels in her cradle on the dresser top
tossed in a spray of dust, my Bequia schooner
for whom I have no name. She freights a crop
of long West Indian cigars. This afternoon
her white windless sails shadow the wall
walling out another New England winter
of northwest wind driving clouds heavy with fall
of snow, of my third December since I sailed her,
gusting and graceful, across the summer waters
of that place on no map—true harbors never are.
Details of living there I half remember
with words unspent, collected like coins in a jar.
The winds that drove your sails drive my mind.
‘Dissatisfaction’ names you, drydocked in time.

(This poem originally appeared in Poetry.)

(© Whitecap Brothers, 1988.)
Return to list of poems.

To read about Richard Dey.

Return to the Poetry Porch homepage.