Barren Islands

eight small pieces of whale fat, some feathers, the lens of a fish or squid’s eye, five smoothly worn bits of pumice

—from the stomach of one fork-tailed storm petrel

Summer nights in the Barrens

the northernmost islands in the archipelago

are raucous with hundreds of thousands of petrels

the luminous gray of nimbostratus clouds

calling and swooping over steep lush green slopes

Because forked-tailed storm petrels are philopatric

—home loving—returning to the same burrows and same mates

with whom they share the work of tending to a single chick

the baby a soft downy ball, a gray powder puff

musky sweet as motor oil

I want to write them into pleasant metaphors

Because they’re moon-guided and unphased by storms

I want to praise the way these birds

so clumsy on land, are nimble on the wing

buoyant ramblers that skim and patter

hovering on wave-made air

glancing over wave crest to wind shadow behind

arriving on land after the sun sets and leaving before sunrise

darkness being their defense against ravens, eagles, gulls

Only the brightest full moon keeps them from trading island for ocean

At sea they’re often drawn to lighthouse beams and to ships’ lights

where whalers and sealers would catch them

and holding the trembling bird,

         warm in cold calloused hands

threaded wicks through their lithe bodies

to draw up oil and burn them as candles

leaving what metaphor, except

how briefly, brilliantly, burns each light