At Corfu

In seventeen hundred, a much hated sultan
Visited us twice, finally
Dying of headaches in the south harbor.

Ever since, visitors have come to the island.
They bring their dogs and children.

The ferry boat with a red cross
Freshly painted on it
Lifts in uneven drafts of smoke and steam
Devising the mustard horizon
That is grotesque with purple thunderheads.

In the rising winds the angry sea birds
Circle the trafficking winter ghosts
Who are electric like the locusts at Patmos.

They are gathering sage in improvised slings
Along the hillsides,
They are the lightning strikes scattering wild cats
From the bone yard:
Here, since the war, fertilizer trucks
Have idled much like the island itself.

We blame the wild cats who have eaten
All the jeweled yellow snakes of the island.

When sufficiently distant, the outhouses have a sweetness
Like frankincense.

A darker congregation, we think the last days
Began when they stripped the postage stamps
Of their lies and romance.

The chaff of the hillsides
Rises like a cramp, defeating a paring of moon. . . its
Hot, modest conjunction of planets. . .

And with this sudden hard rain
The bells on the ferry boat
Begin a long elicit angelus.

Two small Turkish boys run out into the storm
Here, by superstition,
They must laugh and sing like condemned lovers,

Ashen and kneeling,
Who are being washed

By their dead grandmothers’ grandmothers.

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At Corfu