Island Inbreeding

by Cornelia Rohde

…the lilies were standing
on their calm, cob feet,
each in the case
of a single, waxy body
…and I swear I pitied them, as I looked down
into the theater of their perfect faces—
that frozen, bottomless glare.

“The Snow Cricket”, Mary Oliver

He lives alone,
face shut tight as his
simple wooden house
built two hundred years ago,
time enough
for cousins to marry cousins
in this far off fishing village.

Handhewn shutters propped by sticks,
windows cracked open in the heat–
he can’t look out;
no one glances in.
It must be dark inside.
Three clumps of pink lilies
nod in the yard his mother planted
when she was alive.
A single chair on the
the bare porch
holds unhusked coconuts,
left there by giving neighbors.
Over time the pile diminishes
and is replaced.

Once I saw him in the water at high tide
across from the old graveyard.
His lumpy grey swim trunks
dried on his wash line.
Some days he goes walking,
stiff and hatless,
thin hair trim, blue shirt clean,
eyes vacant,
looking at nothing,
simply moving down the road
toward a place he does not see.


by Cornelia Rohde

In the moons of crayfish season,
when the smack boats trawl the
Grand Bahama Bank,
the island women shut their
doors and windows, and grow
desperately close to Mr. Clean:
cling to Pinesol, squeeze the Lysol,
Mop and Glo linoleum,
gush Windex, stroke surfaces
with paper towels in fathoms,
scour walls, ceilings, and
their teeth,
mist Febreeze into moaning wind.
The only Tide they notice makes
suds rise in the washer.

After sand is swept from
every crack and corner,
every toenail trimmed and polished,
every kid slapped twenty times,
Mona’s reputation ruined,
and Norma down with vapours,
at last—
the fishermen ease up the creek,
holds filled with tender tails.
Their eyes fish for their women
on the dock,
to drift through violet twilight water,
in the lazy flip flop of the sea,
slip barefoot into sunup,
hips rolling silky swells, content
to loll at anchor,
while sea breezes freshen up their houses.