Tall Ships Arrive

high-sails
Great white sails like butterflies above the water
move closer again to our shore. History floats

in the offing, the mist they call the water’s ledge
in their strange tongue, tattered as cedar bark. We

villagers come to see what bounty lies in their hold,
beads or waters steeped with angry spirits, blankets

that warm against the wet nights, and then burn
our hearts to ash, fevers made of bright colored yarn.

Our place is surf-rounded stone, great trees weeping
over the water’s edge. Shallow, they stay at a distance.

Small boats, bad canoes, bring them in small groups
and we welcome them with our heads slightly turned.

They will leave, sharp steel and small things their tender,
our exchange only what we are given, not things made.

The great wings will fill with the breath of their journey.
We turn back to our forest, the rivers that salmon climb,

only the seagull goes with them, and we must work
to maintain our lives, to undo the changing they leave.