A History of the Azores

Unknown Watercolor of the Azores, New Bedford Whaling Museum

Santa Maria


It’s nine days past the Boxer Day tsunami in Southeast Asia,

three years now since 9/11, last year’s quake in Bam, Iran

entirely forgotten, the war dead mounting in the fertile

crescent, napalm long since defoliated ferns in Vietnam.


I am sober, cold from swimming on New Years’ Day,

and watching the response of fishermen and altar boys

across the world. The ash of Krakatau still sots the air,

the North Pole has slipped its firmament, as polar bears

scrounge in expeditionary trash. I see Asian countries,

rupees glistening, with Red Cross brigades to sort debris

by elephant. Not one jungle animal was drowned, their

inner anemometers not something they could share.


Only sea folk ran from the long, low tide in time:

I see on news that a woman, Malawati Daud, was

found a hundred miles offshore, eating the fruit

of the sago palm, blessing angels of an apocalypse

who came down for one last kiss. Doctors say she’s

pregnant, her flood child a spiny mermaid, while

I measure phthalo green above a fractured earth,

just as I frame how people cope with how to help.


But I’ll come back to that. I must open my poem,

a set of fugues, not of voices but of places, a catalog

to undo the best of intelligent design, with the nine

islands of the Azores floating still, with my love for

Diderot’s Encyclopedia, huts as urns for saying things,

tongues all twisted into coils of DNA, a fading sense

of history, swells of masculinity, ecstasy of El Greco’s

figures’ fingers bursting into flame, the elegies to life

or a sloppy process of osmosis or underwater tombs,

factories and factory ships gone dizzying or obsolete,

a paean to sugar and wild wheat. I limit the compass

of my questioning to what I want to know about a

Holy Ghost that nobody has seen except in greasy

windowpanes in Queens, who’s spoiled me plenty

since I was twenty, who’s a measure of uncertainty

we seek in Kierkegaard, or the split-second image

of a Yeti in a Modoc valley. Another age will pass,

a whelk shell shed, and a boy, like me, my nephew,

or maybe your own son, will become a fish again,

a coelacanth, a thing of fire, descending to the sea,

the hunching primate loping away from evolution,

survivor of a population bottleneck when Toba’s

magma wrought a thousand years of winter, vog

and ash when grass snakes and yews in Eden froze.


Teddy swims across an inlet, looking for a ghost

of his grieving Dad. Lost to a last big tidal wave?

Lost to years of eel fishing? Lost to killer bees

or walking catfish? Lost to barracudas or the law?

The chords of the sky today are so B-flat, as light

from a Transit of Venus creeps beneath my door.


I name rivers and a ferryman, enumerate the stars

to brighten moods of diplomats, say a prayer and

place an obolos on the tongue of the newly dead.

I walk the South Street docks, mouth all pocked

by bitumen and sores, dream monkfish in butter,

in range of where twin towers stood, for rainy

May nights now it’s two strained beams of light

that aim at Alfecca Meridiana, Neptune’s Triton,

the dog star that pines for farmer Wampanoags.

Sculptures out at Socrates Park are poor relations

to the song that rises from the central cistern

of the city, from sleepy people in the Bronx.


You and I were boys with milkweed in our hair,

walking for days to see the rings of Saturn,

or the Berlin Wall, remember? Laying flowers

at Peter Fechter’s grave in No Man’s Land. Ted,

when we got to the moon Enceladus, vapors

reeked of ambergris, like the ship Mary Celeste,

floating off the Azores, not a soul on board,

umbrella squid lurking in a cavern of the deep.


I wore a cross around my neck and Life-in-Death

herself befriended me till you and I next met.


Remember the Battery bookstall where I bought

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym? We heard

tell of the Peggy there, sung by Dylan Ransom,

a whaler’s grandson who lives in a Winnebago.

We watercolor waxy seascapes of the Hebrides,

dream barren archipelagoes, lagoons on islands

of Korea, talk of the grass at the hanging tree in

Reason Street, of Underground Railroad paths,

Azores kids on Yankee whaleboats, Sable Island

wrecks, ship-breaking beaches of Alang in India,

where floods can’t slow tar or fire or creosote.


I laugh out loud to share a story of Castle Hill,

when I read road poems in a Cardinals cap,

to crowds groggy with cheese or Pinot Grigio.


Shetland ponies, Jarrett's jazz and even Jackie O

was there, her face all cucumber mask and milk.

Last year, we sat at a wake for Cape Verde boys

in Melville’s chapel, just up on Johnnycake Hill,

near Henry Navigator Park, as Bill the Butcher

read Moby-Dick, where trade in Thai sticks fares

better than the fish wharves, where the bones

of Columbus were interred, before they were

de-fleshed and packed off to Santo Domingo.

I’ve fallen for a waitress at the Old Stone Bank,

her green eyes, like yours, gazing into Neverland.


Under the jaw of a bone shark, brotherly John

rings out shanties for crews who say farewell to

stokeholds, singing Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her!

I dream the nine lakes of Annapurna, camels,

leopards, okapi in Bosch’s Garden of Delights,

cadaver dogs and ninth-hour midnight sweats

brought on by The Bourne Supremacy, where my

love and I spent centuries wading in Cranach’s

pool, supple naked flesh afire, seeking a youth

we couldn’t find in the waters of St. Augustine,

as we raise a girl to tend the world’s lush hedges.


Some days she imitates a wolf child in Truffaut,

at sixteen, quietly crooning Lait, Lait. Today she

says she is writing a poem every day, so I know

my job is done, so I am free to go to the Azores.


São Miguel


Here dairy farms roll down to the lowland kelp,

sweet milk drawn from lolling, free-range cows

and meadows brim with blue hydrangeas. Açores, 

sea hawks, climb the winds that sail to the cliffs

of Dover. On São Miguel, I stare at myriad stars:

Albireo, Kraz, and Double Double-- ascending,

as islanders prepare to take a pilgrimage across

the atolls, not stopping for the sea but walking

on and through it, climbing seamounts named

for those who lost their lives on 9/11, looking

for Professor Aronnax of Paris, spying a giant

cuttlefish who sucks the silence out of us, in

warm currents that bear us to our middle age,

the Middle Passage slowed but unforgiving,

as human trafficking abounds in Ivory Coast

and on bright red Beijing junks, full of wasted,

aging Maoists above the barnacles and eelgrass.


On this green island, women are trashing corn:

at Sete Cidades, a nomad princess falls in love

with a mountain man, an archangel with a lilt.

Blue sharks cast their jaws wide for krill, and

whatever truth there is in keeping an eye on

Somalia, right here, in Providence (R.I.) is lost

in the fog at Fogland, an inlet under-fished by

Narragansett Indians. Politics and eremology,

uneasy bedfellows, like Queequeg-Ishmael

under a moth-ridden quilt. I read of Rabelais’s

Sea of Frozen Words, laugh in a bath at Sponge

Bob Square Pants, a cruel joke played on those

who would believe in me. My Pomeranian lies

prone in moonlight, left leg kicking at the sky. 


I can’t find enough air to breathe, for bellows

that once belonged to lungfish now are mine,

even if wizened and grown thin by inactivity,

a ruined knee, a telescopic focus on the wrong

things, till at dawn, I know time’s puzzle, love’s

pure furnace, kids at home, hard black sausage.

From one dark Cyclops cave, my world is dark

to blindfish, to tantalizing giganturus, to sea lice

infestations inheriting good, black, insect blood.


A flying squid, corsairs and caravels above him,

squeegees the Atlantic in search of Aztec gold,

hovering on abyssal plains, out of reach forever

deep-sea feeding in a fracture zone till he shakes

knolls, spurs, or calderas of a continental shelf.

My grandson, not born into this world, wants

to walk rills and beachcomb for brittle stars,

tin canisters of oil, Sumatran rhino fever pills,

rusted cuckoo clocks, bow-rails of the Titanic,

as his grandmother, aged eight, walked white

spruce trails at Acoma, timber rattlesnakes

hissing at the dried-up oceans of New Mexico.


Playing a flute, he looks to Pico do Norte, but

no Second Coming falls: no angels, just servant

trade ruts made of mud, vast and dry, a shaman

like a turtle on his back, telling tales till he turns

them into songs, on a day when Earthlings said

they could do away with stars. I phone Michael

to see if he’s safe at home from India. He’d seen

the Khajuraho temples, spoke to Krishnamurti,

ate bad mangos in Goa, as water seeped across

a cafe floor, not more. Michael, home, and safe!

After Rajan Ramasamy calls to say his Madras

family is okay, I know those dear to me are here.


It hasn’t been the end of nature for all time, we

wish there was more we could do. Jesus, John,

deflect, they point away from themselves, a guy

exclaimed one day in church, and I, too, deflect,

I point away from me and towards a better good.




Miguel says that all invertebrates have origins here

before they swim to the Sargasso Sea, to the tidal

flats of Bath, Nova Scotia, St Pierre and Michelon.


At Black Lake, I dream of hail the night we Shock-

and-Awe Iraq. Bush, Blair, and Aznar are meeting

at Lajes military base, on a blasted day in March,

as winds pick up across the Plains of Nineveh,

where there’re no throngs of protesters for over

a thousand miles of ocean, where bubble gulps

of a goby are most defiant. C-17 Globemasters

take off for the Middle East as petrels search out

sardines, under cumulous clouds that clot the sky.


By a pin-prick light of Uranus, we men prepare

for a romeiro, whales spouting close enough to lap

our ears, misting the sockets of our brains, their

heads like battering rams, ready to stove harpoon

boats from Oslo, Nagasaki, that won’t surrender.


We travel along stony Roman paths, leaving fruit

at each imperio, call to the Espiritu Santo, stopping

at each white-washed hut to stanch the blood-let.

Like St. Isabel, devoted to the destitute and sick,

we work to turn our bread into roses, we watch

a laughing gull fly off to Corvo island, to rising

flood waters of Noah’s Ark. I listen for shouts

from sailors on the USS Scorpion, a submarine

that disappeared in ‘68, found now by Ballard,

guiding him to hydrothermal vents of three

tectonic plates that meet beneath the Azores,

where ten-foot tube worms masticate, cities

lie buried in the deep abyss. I say a Dark Age

is upon us, just as Rome fell, as Byzantium

buckled to its knees, let this world succumb

to a plague of locusts, to frogs and famine

and to cholera, to abject lack of curiosity for

wonders of the world. Bjork croons Medulla

as Christ’s temptations are blazing in my ear.




I charcoal Circe’s Island: thickets of cryptomeria,

shearwaters flying in the dark, a sulfurous cavern

that leads to underworlds of reddish, noctule bats.


Graciosa: the name slides off my tongue like arctic

pack ice, its cries heard across the ocean of hope.


Waking from childhood, Picasso, Aimé Cesaire,

were there, flooding my mind with the language

of desire, thrumming like woodcocks on a forest

floor, imploring me to leave my friends behind,

to part with logbooks from Puritan, joint stock

joints funding Plymouth and Providence Island,

a Miskito hunting paradise off Nicaragua’s coast.


I’m gouging Sacco and Vanzetti out as woodcuts

in the middle of the night, using single words

for images of brimstone. On Graciosa, I rest

my back from cane-break, from moving to

New York, to light the wick for the flame

perpetual, a dissonance that floods my mind

as I search Tulip Street for mirror neurons,

for Allen Ginsberg as he sings Orc’s nine

worlds as I buy buttermilk at William’s

store-- a Yemeni bodega-- where hairy

bats fall, city on city, he says, so we, like

Moloch, dwell on oases near Alexandria,

near a jungle gym at Tompkins Park, as

my toddler screams Higher! Higher! Higher!

swinging till her toes touch an oak tree.


Wherever my eyes rest, crawling text and

the letter D will run to a surface of a page,

the anima and umbra, the tell-tale fatal scar.

Sick as a rat, I keep tabs on Rhadamanthus.


My Dad’s ghost lies among black smokers,

brigantine wrecks that carry rum and tea,

the Agamemnon sunk, laden down with lace.

I dream cats on the Isle of Man, a California

redwood split by fire, Honolulu grass skirts,

songs of the Encantadas. I dream of hooves

in a bull ring, underground cable networks

binding the Azores to Green Hill, me to a

Cave of Morpheus, Rock of Vile Reproach,

my mother-in-law, sweating a month’s walk

to Finisterre, a daughter mewing at foghorn

booms, some Carmelite nuns, shushing me

as our child is born from the remnants of

a burning school. I wake up writing a book

of ship logs, squinting at things: rope coils,

strake boats, baleen whales, festivals of fire,

an old red Plymouth, the Ural Ocean, a nest

of deep-sea squid, come up at Haystack Rock

in Oregon, where cows parade along a beach.


I’ve gone soft working for a living. Neurons fire,

where so many words are lost to coconut palms

and a hand-blown bottle on a Graciosa beach

has a message, We’ll meet you on Pitcairn’s Island.

São Jorge


I stood in an orange grove in Urzelino, recalling

The Cuban Museum of the Revolution, Hemingway’s

house, where a nurse shark tore apart a tuna boat,

the Escuela de Las Bellas Artes in Havana, where

I drew full-length nudes and fell in love with Ada.


I heard Hart Crane’s cries from the Isle of Pines,

imagined the orchard where hebona was poured in

Van Gogh’s ear. Later, I canoed a green-eyed Belfast

girl with a lazy tongue, our clothes gone scattered

over a pond of loons. From there I traveled to places

I wanted to write about: Tove Jansson’s Moominland,

the Island of Dr. Moreau, Quadling Country of Oz,

Luquebaralideaux Islands, Luggnagg, Thermometer

Island, Helgoland, Deads’ Town, a Bush of Ghosts.


Again, the family picnics at Redemption Rock, where

nymphs eat conger eels, where Mary Rowlandson’s

returned from a remove with cruel-eyed Pokanokets.


I’m passing through a valley full of mines-- silver,

coal, molybdenum-- a lorry of oranges, upset along

a wreck-strewn highway, where I heard Worcester

railroad box cars rattling up to Burlington. My friend

David is gone, but at night his soul shadows my bed.


Ted, we tried to dike the torrents, suck its waters

from cold aquatic caves before we trespassed there.


We watched the Sea of the Miracle of Loaves

and Fishes as it emptied out, so we could walk

below its shores, but it was dark before we did.



Spatter cone of bees and hollyhocks, the Capelhinos

earthquake shakes Fayal the year Miguel and I are

born, he in Mexico and me in Philadelphia, come

to live where Pequots once roamed free. Both of us

as children were observers, a thousand miles apart

but gazing at cicadas, foraminifera, sandstone rose,

trilobites, listing Latin names for animals, minerals

to be written on scrolls the size of Minneapolis or

splayed on serial billboards across an Anasazi sky,

both of us yearning for map rooms, open libraries,

exploring with Nemo and Ned Land, only coming

up to feed the Indonesian orphans of Banda Aceh.


We both loved Whitman and Trotsky. He chose

botany, I chose poetry and art. Beer-bellied, we

toil at our taxonomies, he in his lab in the Bronx,

me wading with a No Wake sign at the Forty Steps

in Newport, during election season, but my sign

says Wake Up, where waves spill in from Africa,

Pakistani tourists find it in their wedding shots,

surfers playing Coldplay as they peel off wetsuits

and Kenzaburo Oe breaststrokes out to atolls

where, in one of his books, polio kids, Musan

and Michio, stroll into the Sea of Japan, to the

Aki-No-Nanakusa (Seven Flowers of Autumn),

far off Uta-jima, the rocks of sirens of Nagoya.


Throat wort, samphire and centaury grow so fast

in the mist that these lava hills resemble Galway.


Three fates appear, each with a thread to spin for

Azores midwives. Halfway around the world in

a cowry shell I can hear your voice, on a faraway

island called Unknown, I call and say I love you.



Before the Azores summit, Pico’s streets are still,

pittosporum trees an anchor to its Pliocene past.


George Bush primes Azoreans, Americans, alike,

to want to be owners, to yearn for some means

of production, to risk our savings in speculation.


Last Memorial Day, he took Laura to Auschwitz

and the owl-squint shone: What am I doing here?


What does this have to do with me? A North Korean

missile found in Alaska, I understand, but these

dark, satanic mills?  I think that politics is farce

in a land where saying something makes it so.


But too, his hardline stance has given birth

to new democracy-- we’ll have to wait and see.


Prince Charles takes William and Harry there,

too, where they pause under the sign that says

Work Will Make You Free. Putin and Schröder

don’t bother, but tour an Amber Room instead,

and Lorca lies dying outside Granada, site of

the Salafists’ dream to take back the Alhambra.


Saddam Hussein is caught in a burrow, like in

Dostoevsky’s Pauk, where, terrified, we watch

a giant spider sleep. Gates of Ishtar lions have

all but lost their pride. Magreb Arabs, gathered

in Baghdad coffee-shops, are cursing the Tower

of Babel, which leaks not speech but rancid oil.

Limbless vets, thousands, inch up a federal mall,

three hundred years to a day King Philip is shot

in swamps below Mount Hope. I take my friends

to walk there, Miguel, the handsome botanist,

who loves Green Animals, a topiary of silly beasts,

naming carp, lily pads, tobacco, and red bamboo.


His poet boyfriend, translator of Pasolini, is lost

in thoughts of Indians and Anglos wrestling with

the angel of death among the cattails. That night,

at Foxwoods, we spy Polaris faltering. I spend my

midnights reading Barlow’s Vision of Columbus

under a July buck moon. His phrasing stinks,

the rhyme is slack and he abhors anarchists,

toughs, Rhode Island Dorr Rebellionists, but

he plows into the story of 1770’s America, land

as an excuse to trample on the unforgotten dead,

yet in the end there’s promise for our politicians.


Not for Columbus, though, slunk in a Taino jail

with his burning eyes, to even think of Isabella.


I try to make sense of this in how I look at things:

Tokkarians, Hungarians, mitochondria, metazoan

predators, Easter Island, a lexicon of Seven Seas,

a glass of aguardente, a kiss for my deer mouse love.


Reading Jules Verne, I know that plankton blooms

somewhere near Kamchatka, and bramble sharks,

shell drills, the wreck of the Andrea Doria, bristle-

mouths, robber crabs, oarfish, eyeless rift shrimp,

brain coral, the radiolarian ooze, the tiny sailfish

of Phuket are poised to hear the tsunami rising.


How I feel, floating on the infinite Sea of Cortez.

Summer flounder, Friendly Islands, hermit crabs,

damselflies and buttercups, a desert island called

Inaccessible. Lotus-eaters eat the last jumbo shrimp

I’ve left on my plate because I know you love it so.




Ship’s log: moored at Penikese Island, once a pit stop

for zoologists, later a leper colony, now a home for

delinquent boys. On John’s cat boat, we circle it.


Maximum flood-- 2½ fathoms. From Gull Island,

you can see to Nomans Land, the Gay Head cliffs,

as a nun buoy trips a rapid bong, bong, bong, bong:

another scallop boat lost at sea. I think I can see

Iwa Umezakia, sad leper, beach-pea gardener

who has a crow that writes katakana in the sand.


Lolita his parrot parrots a crow. A least bittern,

without a name, follows him, ornery St. Francis,

as he escapes to Padanarum, takes the train to

Wareham, where he’s caught, returned to Penikese,

after which they’re quick to fumigate the trolley.


I read Typhoon: Captain MacWhirr, South China Sea,

monsoons beating on Macau. Swimming with John

I’m dreaming long lists of the Sudanese deceased,

and thinking that the only narrative for poetry

is sea wrack, banshee legends-- names like Ribbon

Reef, Dumpling Rocks, Chickadee Ledge, Cuttyhunk.

From here I can almost see to Monchique, off Flores,

o extremo mais ocidental da Europa, the westernmost

edge of Europe. But we’re at the latitude of horses,

where I slept with Maja desnuda in a flea-bit flat,

where men plot Basque bombings of Irún.


Years later, I return to Finisterre with my farmer

girl from Hesse, Germany-- we drink wine with

fishermen, hear dolphins talk and pick cabbages

with a countryman of hers called Hombre, a hippie

come to find a life far from Old World perestroika.


Another oil spill in La Coruña-- we see in the news

at home (where nothing’s in the news) that he died,

heart collapsed in shame at the hypocrisy and greed.


Now I’m painting, using the names of actual wars:

War of the Stray Dog, Soccer War, Silk War, Pig War,

Basuto Gun War, Great Swamp Massacre, as well as

made-up wars like the Potato Leek War, Toyota Pickup

War, Thirteen Minute War, Exxon Valdez War, Black

Tulip Wars, Coca-cola War, War of the Burning Bush,

Andy Warhol War, a War of the Theory of Numbers.


I put sketches on my wall: a Limited Nuclear Missile

Defense Shield for La Paz, sleeping in Roden Crater,

and hiking the Very Large Array. We spurn jihadists

for their messianic zeal, but Jesus in rapture tales

presides over a sea of blood of infidels. On a boat

I dream dredging up the Kursk, a submarine lost in

the Barents Sea, and a Chinese brother who sucks up

oceans so a boy can collect his car tires, radio parts,

minerals, Turkish carpets, porcelain dolls, teacups,

skateboards, cutpurse knives and scimitars from Aden.


I dream I’m on the Nautilus, in the Arabian Tunnel,

thinking of Albuquerque, clogging the Nile with loam

and mosquitoes, an ibis on its banks, trying to capture

back Mecca for Mohammed. I dream I strike gold on

Tethys, a moon of Saturn, in silence and in the dust.


I’ll gather its ore and take it home, despite a dog who

guards it with eyes as big as saucers. Blos! Blos! Blos!

the whalemen of Pico cry, as ospreys soar pelagic

wastelands, for spurge and space junk. In one Dante

circle, even the stinking rafflesia bloom, fertilized by

carrion flies-- a virulent poinsettia-- is an endangered

species. Oh fado, blues of the Azores, sing for all of us!




Grim and isolate, Corvo teems with ruddy turnstones,

an empire of skinks, a tern hatchery, a Pluto’s moon,

named Charon for the ferryman of souls or perhaps

for the wife of its astronomer discoverer, frozen lava

fields where sheep paths lead to the bird called Roc,

where, as the story goes, Ali’s severed head is roiling

in the waves, his wail shrill above the chortling sea.


Today a wren sings out, by a neighborhood hospital

at home, as I try to reach Corvo, finish nine fugues

and a revolution, while my girls walk in a blizzard

home from school, scholars of Mishima, ten days

till winter break, a trip to Mexico to build adobe

homes for the Juarez homeless, free time for me

to dream an Age of Bronze or visit Coney Island.


A full moon shines over two feet of newly fallen

snow, it’s bright as day in the middle of the night.


I gaze at a harbor and the shore, where lightning

sparks from taunting anglerfish, out to the Earhart

Seamount, the Sea of Arafura, the Blue Pig Knolls,

Stalemate Canyon, Chinchorro Bank, Pico Trough,

Io Valley, and Challenger Deep. Ted, did you know

that the cost of these visitations could be so steep?


I promise to be quick so you can spit the ocean back,

so fish can swim again through waters of the Azores.