Deborah Lambert lives and writes in Monkton, Maryland, USA. She has taught English, creative writing and served as school library media specialist. She has visited the Aegean Islands several times in the last thirty years.
Oh, for the force and fire of the blind donkey
I sing your glories with devotion due.
Your pleasant rumble of breath in thick air,
your failsafe method of converting grain
for energy, slowly grinding it into your meal
and mixing it with water, thereby improving
the land by not exhausting the soil.
From yonder lawn your sweet odors arise,
your cheerful enough countenance un-stumbling,
your empty traditional saddle bearing
its crude shapes in wood worn from a purpose,
the ropes neatly coiled around the pegs.
No doomed donkey art thou.
And as for me
I shall wear your veil, your evil eye
plastic-colored beads between my own
huge head, between my own blind eyes.
I, the invisible, press myself against
the high stone wall for its leavening warmth
and make wide way for you and your farmer.
And make your large impassive eyes my own.
And see all of nothing where I work alone
seeking the blind insolent refuge where
at last I may serve to pass by unsticking
my sorry ass from its obstinate haste.
For all your grinding burden of secrets I sing.
Sifnos: The Edge of the World
The fractional stones from your journey
you emptied from your boots.
All the miles on the treads
you brushed off with dusty hands.
The white Hot faucet handle
you turned, water from the stem,
and now the mirage waves
in the dents of the shallow pan.
Slowly through this vapor
you ease your sore feet,
and through its watery lens
you see your steps on the stones
climbing again for your longing
place at the edge of the island
at the end of the world
where your search empties you,
the cliff clings to your breath,
and the edge makes just enough
room for you, then vanishes—
just soaking feet in a basin.
That, and what you know now,
distilled. The equally soothing ache.
The long walk with the returning
stone that will not be dislodged.
The day has remade itself in the night.
This morning you took a basket
and walked out early to gather sempre viva,
the small yellow flower that is always alive.
You walked to the city in the sea
and received its blessing
half in and half out of blue-green waters.
The island winds were soft
and your sisters, like reeds in the shore breeze,
whispered words you knew but couldn’t quite hear
—always alive— they promised.
They found the words at the beginning of time
in the sea where the city sank so long ago.
Unbelievable but somehow true.
Always with sun-color. With some capacity
beyond matter to puzzle the waves.
So, it is true that while we hardly know
what fresh science each day brings,
always alive and waiting, I too pick up
the basket beside the door and see how
lightly touched by dew, the flowers need no water.
We were walking that day
across the island and down
to the sea, and we were
surprised by clouds.
I can’t say why I thought
of white tongues. I wish
I’d said, Those clouds
do lick some part of our dream.
We were above the beach
maneuvering clumps of thyme
not stumbling on loose stones
on the fading donkey path,
and we were aloft
in an open mouth of blue,
beholding its oceanic
swollen throat below us.
We were eavesdropping
on voices in the clouds,
and though our arms
were deeply tanned,
I thought of bent, gray shoulders.
You spoke, My wife’s eyes see
another island. Words that
felt like you were trying
them on with your mouth.
Even so, we turned
and overhearing an unearthly
dialect in the wind,
and we stepped
into its warm, blue hug,
its soothing white tongue
showing us how to be alone.
Orselle of the Levant
Federigo sings to his lichen,
adulating its secret crossbreed
nature, as early shimmering light
crosses the shed’s threshold.
He’s drawing the long tendril
fingers from the stuffed sacks.
He is a meager merchant, freshly
disembarked from the Levant,
but his brain blooms below
the gray rushing masses of clouds,
their shadowy waves stirring
his excitement. His hands are cracked,
peeling from fungal dough.
The horse urine’s ammonia
slightly sears his throat’s swallow.
Still, he cries out for more potash,
more saltpeter, more salt water.
He reveres the lichen and knows
it is a lone farmer, cultivating its own
wild yield. He draws no illogical
comparison between his energies
and its natural alchemy.
His embrace of orchil is singular.
He pictures himself brushing
its purple riches into his pocket.
The dough floats in small barrels.
His shoulders and elbows dance
in the dye’s breathtaking tune.
He will bring plum to the people,
blossom and currant-colored mauves.
He adds arsenic and sings
his secret dreams into the silky sky.
Poetry in this post: © Deborah Lambert
Published with the permission of Deborah Lambert