That evening the sponge fishers took me home

tired and dusty,

all day spent in crossing mountains,

climbing down to bouldered beaches

on the far side of the island,

wearing sandals only,

not very used to it.


Three months they'd had of it in the open boats

dirty old caiques full of gear

puffing smoke rings in the air

machine gun echoes under cliffs

swirls of satin measuring sheltered coasts.


These sleep with Cyclops in the open caves

that gape like Chronos at the sun,

cook fish on rocks, pots blackened

smoke of brushwood fires, herbs

plucked by accident tinge the air

incense suddenly making cold flesh curiously warm.


Men of these islands are never old,

their grey heads are always questioning

seeking the heart of the traveller

ever making for Ithaca and the unknown home,

telling their stories of Turkish ports, coffee houses,

or some Muslim shrine in far off Libya

where they do not stand to pray


Here too the golden helmsman,

bronze bodied from the sea, hunter of fishes,

deep swimmer loved by Poseidon,

proud with the dark passion of arrogant eyes

that do not seek but recognise

first the companion and only later love.


Soon squid black the bays and inlets

sparks of phosphorescence fire the inky sea

throw back greetings at appearing stars,

deeper yet the hues on the mountains

their peaks with rocks still lambent

stand cicada beating out the day


I left them there at the foot of the cliff

and stumbled skywards up the track,

the fishermen below on steady earth

set fires awinking, voices fade

Over the mountain the night sky yawned

doming a silent sea.


1969-70. Revised 1992