- Letter to Miranda
Dear Miranda, my wonder, how is itTen years have passed? You sit on Naples's throne,And I, again, pretend to rule Milan.You have children of your own, older thanYou were when we came to our island. DoesIt call you back? The wind in the shore grass,The chatter of fulmars on the far cliffs,Those first few precious days when CalibanWas not our slave?
I walk in my worn cloakDown from the Castello, pass the vendorsHawking crosses and charms in the plaza.I can't slip by the matrons. They give meThe Evil Eye, thinking I still possessMy magic. Some few dare approach, beggingRespite from their chilblains. Like wetted strawThe ancient syllables cannot catch fire.I want art to enchant. The other day,In the Duomo, I was pesteredBy a priest: "Why come when you don't believe?"I stared the cretin down. "To pray," I said.How can one, my dear wonder, not believeWhen there are such isles as ours?
Our small boatBroke up in the wild surf. I found your handAnd managed to get us to the tidemark,Where I sprawled, retching. I could somehow senseYou standing there, unafraid, the waterLike bracelets round your ankles. When I hadCollected our few trunks and laid my books To dry among the matted kelp, I wept [End Page 389] Our wreckage. You wandered down the wide beach,Stooping here and there, tilting your headTo listen. Next you lifted to my lipsA shell. "Drink, Father," you said. "Fresh water."Daughter, I stopped weeping and gazed at youIn wonder: your small hands, the shell's rough spines,Your solemn eyes regarding me with pity—I keep that gaze in a velvet place. WeFound a dry cave and tinder for a fire.The eggs of murres, rockfish, and black mussels—That was our first supper. I salvaged someSun-warped boards for your bed. And there I tuckedYou in, unattended but for the gullsOn the far rocks. You asked for a story."Once upon a time and on an island livedA wizard and his daughter. ProsperoHis name was. Guess her name, Miranda. It Means wonder."
I never told you the dreamI dreamt that night. Your mother came to meAnd sang through the doors of the sea. She sangAs if she stood in her garden, the wavesLike waist-high flowers, the constellationsLike clematis trained to a crumbling wall.I rose and came to her. Her song becameThe vellum she gave me, whose Latin wordsSwirled into claws and beaks and flaming wingsWhich lifted from each leaf—daemons that linkedLike vertebrae of one great serpent curvedInto itself, sinuous tail in mouth, burningAnd turning, faster and faster, untilI read each writhing word, or sang itRather, music of the animate Earth,In the chain mail of the Snake, the mouthOf my love pressed against mine. This magicDidn't come from Cornelius AgrippaOr thrice-great Hermes. It was the island's— The open folio of the Ocean [End Page 390] I read that night, each footfall of the windOver the bay, each mist-shape and capeConcealing as they came into beingMy wizard's robes, seaweeds where ProteusNever slept, pines where eagles roosted, shells,Caves, moon-illumined coracles—ITraced the small labyrinths inside each cell.I learned the secret names of things. At dawnI fell into exhausted sleep.
I wokeOn another shore, island no more. That day,Wandering the island, we found new springsFringed by anemones, coloniesOf murres and gannet clouds, and thatTimid boy Caliban. I do not sayIt was an idyll. We had so little.Dukes make poor carpenters: our chairs all wobbled,And cups slid from our table. ElementalsKnow nothing about rulers. AtomiesMove in circles. Still the shy boy showed usBrine pits, the barren places and the fertile,Oyster shoals, fulmar eggs: all his wealth heShared, that feral boy whom we taught letters...