Friday, March 14, 2014

Black Islands Continued (3)

Father Martin de Munilla at Espiritu Santo: 1606 

We sailed into a great bay a small river
between the headlands four months fourteen days
from Peru dense forest wilderness hills rise
St Phillips St James Quirós names the bay
in the new unknown comfort of old names
a supposed continent becomes Austrialia
Del Espiritu Santo if it be
island or Main may be beyond measure
future plains beyond forests misty green
as babes wishes we hold them to our breasts
feed them milk of holy names history 
we convince ourselves will see us well blessed
discoverers of dreams reality sees
black heathen feathered spears angry bees
shouting darting briefly shadows trees

Dark dashes out stabbing red topped sticks
in the sand boats answer with harquebus
aimed high echoing silence rules the beach
smoke from the hillside seems to invite us
homesick for the peasant farms of homeland
what we find becomes far from domestic
the sounds we followed shouts chants sticks rattled  
might have been the best of Satan's hectic
jeers blindly our sturdy harquebus fires
high in trees until a deserted village
after months of salt-beef baskets of yams
pigs tethered in a row I granted pillage
it was not fit that Spanish should not eat
while the savages feasted on yams fresh meat
we taste fruits while yams pork flavor the heat


A month much health restored I bless the gifts
of food God's nature yields natives untouched
left nought but to hunt fish our course now shifts
south to explore on a stormy Thursday
yams smoked-pork coconuts stored we weigh
our anchors are more blown than sailed away


Those colorless men who paddled backward
second eyes beneath the strange leaves covering
their heads these pale men whose spears barked and smoked
are gone so our men dance the women sing
men too young chant and drum so we all come
alive again those who lead are men who
have twice payed with circle pig tusks who are men
so high when they dance the trees will dance too
trees lean and sway fire rises to light the sky
while they dance the night away we rock clap
sing as drums come into us our hearts drum
we are alive again free from the wrap
colorless men bound around our world the fear
we'd never felt before the cobweb ghost circling
the ring is ours the hunter's heart beats
we feel too as they stiffly stalk and spring
throw their dream spears so when black hawk sweeps in
arms spread wide we rise to greet the morning

             Friar Maleo de Vascones
Four months after Espiritu Santo
Friar Munilla sickened died at mid-night
ides of October sixteen-hundred-six
like bundled dry sticks dropped out of our sight
those eighty-year old bones lightly slipped sailcloth
to sink the banner of St Francis his shroud
for epitaph he'd written He chose the path
the fate of his voyage he wondered aloud
not knowing was new land he blessed country
or island nor do I half prayer half dream he
walks there now his dreamed fertile field valley
gentle breeze our world his revery

              Continental Drift

Not easy to get the drift of continents
it's no surprise his prize escaped the last
persistent conquistador turned explorer
the fabled southern continent however vast
it might drift many million years miles so well
it might be as fabled as was dreamed indeed free
to drift in confusion those years before
Quirós set sail we shouldn't assign blame he
nor Torres wouldn't know land could be there here
move around so time enough time to spare
for pieces of Pacifica to reappear
among the Aleutians or to flair
in the Andes the rest furtive as a kiss
despite its dimensions easy to miss

Black Islands Continued (2)

Maps of Quirós: 1598

Unknown southern continent uncovered
as a woman blind and her lover in
the visceral dark we find explore share
our ignorance these uncertain faint thin
strings wordless by intent without design
lines we draw of one another meaningless
disconnected in daylight curved insular
strokes might be something of a shape we guess
a blind reader feels excitement or bliss
from feeling and the slightest touch a swell
of breast or a bay of thighs an island's
sudden promontory faint lines that may well
mark the corner of a chart which uncurled
outlines vast lands which balance half our world
in which we may share our visits flags  unfurled

                  Star Paths

Islands are green stars in a deep water sky
as broad as the one cast over us nightly 
a reed mat where light sparks are held so high
we sail between them and their reflections
and we needn't know or name every star yet
we sense where they are just as we know where
parts of our body are in the darkest net
of night even children's fingers as they could
with fiber threads pick patterns from formless air
so we're children again sailing empty seas
in patterns that may not seem to be there
but our boat feels the currents our bellies
feel the lift beneath the waves confusion 
for there where a star sank the cloud we saw
as if fixed by trees was no illusion
to which birds fly but a green effusion

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Black Islands

        I wrote the first draft of Black Islands almost 40 years ago and spent the last 6 months reviving and revising the the poems and presentation. I'll just give you the title page today and try to remember to add the content bit by bit.

Black  Islands

Robert M. Chute

All that has been lost in America
may be gained in Australis del
Espiritu Santo. It seems as if
God kept the better and the richer
lands to the last…
                                                            Petro Quirós (1506)

Between the Solomon's, New Caledonia, and Fiji lies the cluster 
of islands, reefs, shoals, and live volcanoes which Captain Cook, 
with singular inappropriateness, named  the New Hebrides. To the 
confusion of topography, vegetation, and native peoples white man 
has added his destructive genius,so that the archipelago now stands 
unchallenged as one  of the unhealthiest, wildest, most mistreated, 
and the most mismanaged spots on earth.

                                          Oliver: The Pacific Islands (1961)

Well I might as well give you the first page…

Author's Introduction

About thirty-five years ago I read Thomas Harrison's book, Savage Civilization, for me a compelling account of his experience in the Pacific islands known as The New Hebrides. As a consequence I spent hours of reading and research, fitted between preparation for teaching and research in Biology, and wrote a series of poems dealing with the people of those islands.
In an optimistic trial for publication I received encouragement but the suggestion, twice, that some uniformity in the form of the poems would fit the general uniformity of the content. Other interests intervened, some, dealing with the civil-rights movement, indirectly related to the poems since a better term to identify the islands would be Melanesia. How much trouble that pigment has generated in pale minded pale people.
In any case here are the poems approximately 450 years after those island's first recorded european contact. About a year ago they surfaced in my disordered files and I decided to revise them. The form of the originals had no uniformity. These revisions are based on a ten syllable line with the even numbered lines rhymed: the end of each major section a couplet, triplet or even quartet. I offer no defense for this decision since I have none, nor for the omission of punctuation —unless I wanted the reader to have to stop and think from time to time.  
Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia: many islands, tiny islands, black islands.Melanesia, as a geographic, cultural entity, stretches southeasterly from New Guinea and the Solomon's to Fiji. The southern foundry includes New Caledonia but not New Zealand.  It is the Polynesians and Micronesians who are the "noble savages" of South Pacific romance. They are taller, more european in appearance, and, significantly, lighter in color with straight hair. Shades of South Africa and Old Black Joe.