The Season of the Dead

THE SEASON OF THE DEAD

1. Vergilian Fortunes
from the Aeneid

Weeping I left my native coast,
my harbor, the bone-seared plain
where once stood Troy. Deep

into exile was I thrust, I,
my companions, my son,
my household gods, the gods

of all my people, destiny’s refuse,
flotsam in waves we sowed
with friends. And every day

was hardship at our elbow,
each narrow ship an agony,
each groan of wind and rigging

a new curse, until at last
we threw our bodies to dry earth.
The only crop we had that year was death.

2. Bay of Slaughter
St. Augustine, Florida

To faith the world leaves little room:
that moon without a need for proof
beyond two moonlit eyes
fixing it there, this empty beach,

its ghosts crabbing clumsy ways
with no clue they endure.
There are other signs, no doubt,
but for those less weary or less sure:

a steel-blade cut of sea on land, a cross
of embers on a dune
that has known tragedy, where men
have fed men into a grave,

into a name that still holds sway
over these waters.
There is a moral here, and there’s not.
And we, French Huguenots

and our Castilian keepers,
what else were we to make
of the oracles of marsh and sky,
the self-sure omen of the tides,

other than the world was as it should be,
which knows not what it means
to let go and rise, as if at sea,
to be hungry so long memory is hunger?

3. For an Enemy Pilot
(1923-1945)

Joystick forward, rudder right,
his fall is still and upward
from darkness into a brief light –

quilt of coral-cloud and flak,
shell-burst of machinery,
water stitched to a horizon

by a broken thread of smoke.

In walrus-tusk, whale jaw,
in the pages of parched books

sweetly bitter as old ginger,
in gowns dyed with lime and soot,

the world has its aftermath:

Crabs burrowed his ribcage,
currents eased his bones
under silt and sand. The sea

has no obligation to be kind —
it fulfills its duties well,
it carries on, it holds no memory.

—————————————-
This poem started as 3 separate pieces written between 1994 and 1996(?). They were so thematically linked that it became clear to me they worked best as a single unit. The poem was published in the New England Review, Fall 1998 issue.

The poem is, perhaps surprisingly, a very personal one for me. Besides the obvious reference to exile (I left Cuba at age 13), it also touches upon a great deal of loss in terms of dreams and aspirations of mine during this period. It’s sort of a mourning piece. Of course, my losses are nothing compared to the people in the poem. This, perhaps, was meant to offer myself consolation.

But it’s about a lot more. The seemingly inevitability of violence and suffering in the world is one of my inevitable themes (read: obsessions).

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