Both so red-headed we had to insist
we weren’t brother and sister,
that seventh summer when we were chased
from the deck of our Nantucket ship,
splinters from shingles deep in our fingers,
catching our freckles on thorns
when we pitched from the roof
into roses which petalled our heads
while, nets ready, we stalked
the black-and-gold spider.
Then we slid down the bluff to the beach,
struck swiped kitchen matches near eel grass:
does green burn?
All that we asked was one emerald flame.
Yellow and red rippled downwind
like tide in a color film negative
toward tumbledown Squatterstown
dumped under the bluff
south of where we lived and swam.
Our crackling orange tidal wave rushed to engulf
hobos and boogie-men,
ghosts of sea captains,
the woman with twenty-five cats who slept in her stove,
the mermaiden’s bones we’d uncovered in June –
We commandoed it back to the top of the bluff,
buried our give-away heads under vines,
heard sirens, peeked out to see
three fire engines wind down steep rutted roads.
Firemen shoveled sand dikes just in time.
We were banned from playing together
eight terrible days of Nothing To Do.
Fog, thick as smoke, kept the bows
of our roofs fast aground,
couldn’t wash that charred sand.
How slowly dunes green again.
SOURCE: Earlier draft won a Poetry Society of America annual award; published in Ann Arbor Review; reprinted in Tightening The Circle Over Eel Country, Acropolis Books, ©1974 Elisavietta Ritchie. Prose version: Flying Time: Stories & Half-Stories, Signal Books, ©1992 & 1996 Elisavietta Ritchie; A Nantucket Anthology, Whitefish Press, 2001.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elisavietta Ritchie’s stories, poems, articles, and photographs are widely published, anthologized, and translated. Recent books: Babushka’s Beads: A Geography of Genes; Guy Wires; Tiger Upstairs on Connecticut Avenue; Feathers, Or, Love on the Wing; Cormorant Beyond the Compost, Arc of the Storm, Elegy for the Other Woman. Flying Time: Stories & Half-Stories; In Haste I Write You This Note: Stories & Half-Stories.