Wise Poets – Deborah Digges – The Transmigration of Souls

Deborah Digges (February 6, 1950 – April 10, 2009)

Inside the starboard window
of his room in a boat at sea,
the piece of earth he’s scraped from a dead gull’s leg
sprouts eighty different species, green
under bell glass. By the sunlight
of the oil lamp he makes rain
as the wind picks up toward Chiloe,
Port Famine, Concepcion, and then Galapagos.
Here he finds shipwrecked sailors’ epitaphs cut
into the shell of an old tortoise
who’s tame enough to ride,
too huge to slaughter.
Here the birds are fearless.
He can catch them with his hands, let them
perch on his finger before he
breaks their necks and wraps them
in his shirt and sets their eggs on branches drifting
from the shoreline, island to island.
Now everywhere he meets himself.
He’s tired, and half the world from home.
But his mind has entered the morning
the way all the animals
kept in his cabin in jars along the wall grow
smaller in sequence
until the window opens on the sea,
so that what he’ll remember
are the wasted spaces, the desert rock spread out for miles
as if the earth were flat again,
dangerous at the horizon,
where the stones, piled, shine
against lava black.
Dew pools in the evenings.
A few pale leaves appear.