Barrier Island

by James Finnegan

You can row out to the island. It’s not far. Beyond
is an undulant expanse to the horizon marked
by the hook of a moon still visible in daylight.Bring some paper, watercolors and brushes. To paint
the seabirds that are many, some rarely seen. They
come down over the sedge as the sun sets, alighting
in the inlets on the landward side of the island.Gather some driftwood into a pile, in case you must
start a cooking fire or as a signal for help. Strip
yourself to a few essentials, a knife tucked into your jeans.

When one gets to the barrier island, mind the boat
you came by. Overturned, its hull will be your shelter
if a squall comes up or you spend the night, so drag
it well above the wrack and the high tide line.

Bring a journal and something to write with
in case you have the urge to empty your human heart
in front of an ocean that doesn’t care that you’re there.

Until you are comfortable being alone. Unless you
can see your own body washing up in the surf, buffeted
and animated like a poor puppet by the tide, only then
will you find solace on this disconnected spit of sand.

With mangroves, slash pine and sloughs, a barrier
island protects the mainland, buffers the sensitive
wetlands and the good houses that dot the shore.

When you spend enough time on the island you begin
to understand a different truth. It’s a broken off thing,
an orphaned land, and the sea holds all your gaze,
gives whatever color it has to your eyes.


barrier-island_finnegan_photo-300x199James Finnegan’s poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, The Southern Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review and other literary magazines. With Dennis Barone he edited Visiting Wallace: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Wallace Stevens (U. of Iowa Press, 2009). Finnegan founded an internet discussion listserv called the NewPoetry List and he blogs aphoristic ars poetica at usrprache.

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