When they were old men
they couldn’t recall if they had strode that mystery,
or if another sailor had bragged of walking
on the broad backs of cod
all the way to the shore
of the new found land;
though even Caboto himself
might have baulked at that word ‘found’:
his tensed eyes
saw nothing you could pin down, only landfall
receding into mist, and a wild grey sea
into translucent islands,
learning to crackle and splinter;
learning to soften
to slob ice, and then be washed ashore
as lolly turned to slush:
a liminal place,
a borderland which surfaces and fades
in the throats of its own people, through words
which bob up
and hide beneath the tide of standard speech;
sudden as a wind
that stretches cheeks in a screecher; or perhaps
in a damp muggy day which closes the lips
to murmur mauzy, or with the force
of brickle ice exploding harsh consonants
in throat and mouth.
it is a language
like distant glim; its words as elusive
as a fairy squall, a gust which appears
to come from nowhere.
A standard speaker
is strangered by this tongue, feels as displaced
as perhaps Caboto did when he returned
to the jewel-hard light of Venice, learnt to live
with palaces and towers, yet in his dreams
still walked a squirming silver bridge of fish,
the nearest thing he could find
to solid land.
Diane Pacitti’s most recent book is Dark Angelic Mills, a collection of poems written during her poetry residency at Bradford Cathedral in its centenary year in 2019. Since the coronavirus lockdown, Diane has written a sequence of poems based on Italian-Canadian history, a preview of which has appeared online with translations by Anna Foschi in Alla volta di Leucade. She lives in the UK.
“Unfoundland” was a finalist in the inaugural Accenti Poetry Contest in 2021.
For details on next year’s contest, click here.