Amateur witches and professional virgins,
by Michael Longley
Sirens and shepherdesses - all new areas
Of experience (I have been out of touch) -
Ladies you are so many and various
You will have to put up with me, for your sins,
A stranger to your islands who knows too much.
Your coy advertisements for bed and breakfast
I take as read, if I feel inclined -
So easy-going am I through going steady
(Your photographs will never hang in my mind)
With one ear cocked for the weather forecast
I come ashore to you who remind me,
And, going out of my way to take a rest,
From seasickness and the sea recuperate,
The sad fleets of capsized skulls behind me
And the wide garden they decorate.
Grant me anchorage as your paying guest -
Landladies, I have been too long at sea.
When I sight you playing ball on the sand,
A suggestion of hair under your arms,
Or, in swallows, wearing only the waves,
I unpack strictly avuncular charms -
To lose these sea legs I walk on land:
I linger till my boat fills up with leaves,
With snow or sunshine (whichever I prefer).
I see your islands as the residue
Of my sailor days, of this life afloat,
My lonely motive to abandon you,
Darlings, after each whirlwind love affair
Becalmed in logbook and in anecdote.
You have kept me going despite delays -
On these devious shores where we coincide
I have never once outstayed my welcome
Though you all seem last resorts, my brides,
Your faces favourite landmarks always,
Your bodies comprising the long way home.