One-Tree Island


Private as a priest-hole, leaf-strewn and hushed,
tiny pandanus grove on a coral hill.

And facing no way in the sheltered gloom
a white-lettered plywood board

a most unusual sea-eagle’s nest
first recorded by Fukes in the 1840s
still in use, December 1961.

The paint is peeling, but the nest remains,
survived last summer’s cyclone,
a massive stick-pile eight feet high.

This island is old, time’s eolith.
As the saucer corals, four feet round and smooth,
rise on thick pedestals from the sea floor
so one great saucer from an early sea —

its lime-green contents sparkling in the sun,
a live and glorious sea-tureen
where the round ocean daily, heaving
his blue bulk up to the rim like an ogre’s head
dashed his white surf against the circling wall.

Coral within was every shape as rock:
gardens of limestone, vegetables of shell —
rock-cabbage, turnips, kale and broccoli, fixed
on rocks, boiled and swirled, then snapped
and topped-and-tailed in the ocean’s cooking pot.
Until a rubble-bank emerged.

Seabirds through centuries made nests on it,
mere hollows in dry coral. Then
cockroaches, and centipedes
omnivorous, six inches long; and moths;
and hunting spiders brought there on the winds,
dark, hairy, with a formidable bite.

A million years have brought no change.
No mammals have arrived. No soil.
Dry coral does not rot, but it abrades,
with winds and cyclones, its live honeycomb
worn down to golfball dimples
in a process whose minutes are millennia.

Low scrub exists, three clumps pisonia, and one
pandanus. The centipedes perhaps are larger,
less carnivorous.

Wind sings
and the currents lap on death’s garbage,
this shoal of white charcoal that stretches to sunset
speckled with ruby tears of the rare red coral,
this wood-heap of fine-pored bone
that crunches and crumbles underfoot —
lives by the million bushel, whose coelenterate experience
no history restores.

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