Waylaid


Shipwrecked again. I disentangled kelp

from belt loops, collar, cuffs. Soon I had help: a willowy woman, nearly seven feet, out for a seaside stroll. A scholar of myth who’d combed the Aeolian Islands, Cyprus, Crete, foothills and arid footnotes, gathering shards of the existence of forgotten bards. Her island had an unrecorded name and stony coast. The villa she shared with twelve pampered kittens smelled of sweet botanicals; her bed was spacious with a silver frame and, dangling from the posts, four iron manacles.

Her tone was docent-smooth throughout the tour.

“We’ll rest,” she said, “and then I’ll show you more.”

We picnicked on the lawn, drank hyacinth wine, smoked lettuce, lotus, opium, catnip, cloves; splashed one another, giggling, in the coves— and when she shed the dress I’d soaked with brine, I stared and stared, my brain completely lotused. I stayed and stayed. Weeks floated by unnoticed. Or else months, years .... I can’t exactly say she held me there with whips or chains or potions. Held me unwillingly, I mean. Pure play in all its strangely regulated motions

secured our bondage, while the unloosed forces

lashing her little rock with wind and foam

brought gorgeous seabirds, tortoises, seahorses

weaving their spell of charm about the game.

It worked, most days. But even where no home

or love lies waiting (only more chains, more locks),

allegiance to the kingdom of the Previous will render every fresh devotion devious and every clawed adventure deadly tame.

I bolted. Grabbed a rowboat by the oarlocks.

Twelve kittens bristled at me, pupils narrowing. I threw them back a wounded look. Escape? No, no—the shedding of a false belief.

I launched my vessel with a headlong scrape and splash; missed, by a whisker’s breadth, the reef toward which a new sail was already arrowing. As for supplies, I’d smuggled out enough

to scrub my tender limbs, conceal each faint mark of resistance with a linen cuff, mix a dark cocktail in a salt-rimmed cup, and toast the sail as my clear brain whipped up an unrecorded epic of restraint.