Lately, it's been dreams of precipices:
Strange aerial ones where I, the dreamer, always
Aloft or on some verge am looking
Down from steep heights on to shocks
Of mountains whited out by snow. Perhaps
It's only habit, as you say, or need,
Remembering the mountains this time of year
That comes out, again, like another prayer.
In this plane now heading south I write you
Over flat land called Florida and below
Speckled like shells along the Gulf Coast
Are tiny islands which vanish depending
On the tides. The largest of these, Captiva,
A bird sanctuary, never disappears.
As children, we found shells along its sand:
Fans, Lemon Pectons, Lion's Paws (the rarest of all).
In this seat looking down I imagine you
As a boy in the story you once told.
You scaled up hillside to master the view;
Losing foot-hold you slipped, clutching bracken,
Handfuls of turf as you fell towards the sea.
Last night's dream on the sudden returns
Like a missive sent back by some dismissed
Lover: we, upwards on cliff, expecting
A monument or temple found instead
Plateau, quite narrow. I edged behind you
Grabbing on your hand, your words, refusing
To look down; I regretted the return:
Fearing it like this height or death
By seaplane. We are landing now; lights on
In the street below. And in the pond, maybe,
Alligators. The tiny trees reflect like mirages
As the plane sinks down, nosing the runway,
Returned to this Indian land; flat, unwanted.
From The Poetry Review January 1984.
This poem was later published in Elise Pachen's Infidelities (Story Line Press, 1996).