Caught by the River

Iona: A poem by Jelle Cauwenberghs

Jelle Cauwenberghs | 12th September 2016

We made landfall at night. A man with a net watched us sail into the bay of martyrs
as he slit and scrubbed the fish,
cut through the knots and silver gills
passed from mother to son like siren tears,
as many times as the sand could weep. As many daughters.

We brought our dormant god. The prow of our damned ship,
his holy body of fleas plunged in the purple­veined liver of the sea, rinsed pure like the eagle braids the water.
The sanctuary was this island of shepherds,
the organ where his followers slept and prayed at dawn,
scoured kelp and wrack like revered washerwomen.
They were plain and soft­spoken like the ox.
They made rags of quiet victory as their souls became cranes.

That day we were no longer soldiers, we were
goat­horned darkness seeking the light, stiff dark rope
emerging from the howling wreck, nothing
in the way of flowers, or good black earth.
The earth of home. We came to reap, we came to our graves.
Hooded and crying like crow­sisters, we circled the boneyards, the gaping lance, tear­shaped doorways, prudent like egrets in pastures spread
the wet curtains of this island, and rain, so carefully danced,
and made our entrance into the scriptorium.
We became their gospel.
We entered the holy cave then, the republic of the waves.
We burned for all eternity.

Jelle Cauwenberghs on Caught by the River