It rides upon the wrinkled hide
of water, like the upturned hull
of a small canoe or kayak
waiting to be righted — yet its law
is opposite to that of boats,
it floats upon its breastbone and
brings whatever spine there is to light.
A thin shaft is slotted into place.
Then a puffed right-angle of wind
pushes it forward, out into the bay,
where suddenly it glitters into speed,
tilts, knifes up, and for the moment’s
nothing but a slim projectile
of cambered fibreglass,
peeling the crests.

The man’s
clamped to the mast, taut as a guywire.
Part of the sleek apparatus
he controls, immaculate nerve
of balance, plunge and curvet,
he clinches all component movements
into single motion.
It bucks, stalls, shudders, yaws, and dips
its hissing sides beneath the surface
that sustains it, tensing
into muscle that nude ellipse
of lunging appetite and power.

And now the mechanism’s wholly
dolphin, springing toward its prey
of spume and beaded sunlight,
tossing spray, and hits the vertex
of the wide, salt glare of distance,
and reverses.

Back it comes through
a screen of particles,
scalloped out of water, shimmer
and reflection, the wind snapping
and lashing it homeward,
shearing the curve of the wave,
breaking the spell of the caught breath
and articulate play of sinew, to enter
the haven of the breakwater
and settle in a rush of silence.

Now the crossing drifts
in the husk of its wake
and nothing’s the same again
as, gliding elegantly on a film of water,
the man guides
his brash, obedient legend
into shore.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Windsurfing”?

This was the only poem I composed during an entire year that I spent on the Greek island of Paxos, when I wrote two prose books, Education Lost and The Anatomy of Arcadia. One day I was feeling especially culpable for having abandoned the Muse, so I desperately sought a subject to allay my guilt and found it while lounging on the beach: the windsurfer whose calisthenics I was admiring. That, I thought, is the true poet, busy crafting a myth out of himself, achieving balance in a turbulent world.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Windsurfing”?

A vague attempt at a carmen figura, that is, trying to give the impression of to-and-froing via the line breaks while at the same time trying to establish the sense of equilibrium through block stanzas.

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