Ambergris Caye

From the sky, we draw closer at flight's end
to wing shadows, skipping on jungle calm,
over leafy fountains where mute fronds bend,
then land to the glade's answer: Cahune palm.
We're out and light is hefted everywhere:
through blurry space from tarmac to terminal
and off an earth, white as crushed shells.  With care,
Hilly's vintage taxi motors a slow
   overtaking: fellows on black Raleighs.
   They steady handlebars, staying their knees.
Road dust clears off; the harbor scent is faint.
What spills together on this Carib ledge:
stilt houses with tin roofs, with scabby paint.
Amid this, Hilly asks the faith I've pledged.
He's guessed this house of worship is my kirk.
Palm trees stake and frame its brick facade.
One sign, "BANNS may be PUBLISHED in this CHURCH,"
tells me, to Huxley, indeed, I must nod,
   for, yes, Belize is "one end of the world,"
   from where I watch the frigate bird soar and curl.
Hilly bids us well, unloading the gear.
He's like an uncle in our discovery:
The warm ease, silk-tree crystalline, that's here,
where we'll spend the night.  The hotel simply
holds with British manners--dinner service
is linens, crystal, silver.  And fare?  Shark
fin soup, venison or from Ambergris
banks, red snapper.  The view goes dusky, dark.
   But next morning breaks the Caribbean wide:
   a yearned-for vision in the small plane ride.
Out to the Cayes; along this Barrier Reef.
Islands--palms on some--a necklace that's dropped,
gone a-scatter; each mangrove tuft fixed deep
on watery sapphire.  One caye I'd adopt.
Would I not then be Robinson Crusoe?
Four elements, as world cut down to size.
What else is needed to live in beauty's tow?
Why this wish?  Why even the exercise?
   Questions, not answers, waver in glass-block
   of subaqueous greens lapping blue bedrock.
What will others with us, British soldiers,
want?  Some sand, some sun; drinking, perhaps,
that Belikin beer.  Though scuba divers
travel to this mecca--casting themselves,
slow fin flaps, in the Blue Hole by cave light--
it's not our quest.  The village here, our crew
feathers a stop on white, crushed coral.  Might
the dream--islanders are happy--be true?
   For we wake to these San Pedroans with whom
   we walk sandy lanes in laughter's perfume.
The outright joy's infectious.  The crowd cheers
around the softball lot.  Wealthy Texans
against fishermen.  These Houston fliers
return each year for simple hits and runs.
(Texans who can afford any travel.)
But soon we must leave, by boat up the coast,
coming here "to get away from it all,"
for what's just an inn and a pier.  Our hosts
   suggest we glide each day and see it end.
   Thus, we mind a watch neither sprung nor stemmed.
We order days in studied, aimless acts.
Though, at times, we're almost urgent: learning
which repellant blunts relentless, sure hacks
from mosquitoes in twilight's keep.  But morning
walks to the shoreline fold, leisurely reads
in hammock strings, or masked snorkeling floats
for tropical fish are the norm, daily deeds.
Plus talk--as we watch, over the Reef, boats
   bob and Tradewinds push a rainbow our way.
   (Later, it's tin roof, rain caught in the fray.)
They are expatriates.  One will explain,
"No wind--for hundred feet, water's like crystal."
The other ventures us a new refrain:
"Some say Roatan's better--less settled."
It all leads past the reason for Ambergris:
"Don't let yourself fall in love with this place,
unless you are willing to be like us
and build your house here at a true snail's pace.
   See, you'll wait months for your ship to arrive,
   leaving lumber to bring that dream alive."
How would our pioneer struggle here be spent?
(Some things stay unsaid, unvoiced in the head.)
Past an iguana's eye shift; a warm scent,
ripe earth, beckons (Where has adventure led?)
as inland we walk, up from beach and sea,
on ordinariness, on gravelled depth.
A succession--cupped, rain-bleached boards tightly
lipped--leads to a slough where a rowboat's kept.
   Through uncharted waters, rowing the line,
   an island breaks up in fens of the mind.

Charlie Dickinson