Nancy Keating

The Grammar of Paradise


In Tortola, when you go, they bury you

under a white concrete slab which,

for good measure, they top off with

two or three more slabs,

smaller but equally white:

an oblong ziggurat, topped

with a cross. Your visitors can sit

on you or one of your neighbors

and lunch on a roti or sandwich as they

remember and discuss you

and then move on to other topics,

looking across to low houses

and shops, their doors, roofs,

and window shutters in

gleeful toybox colors and

overhead, coconut palms and

the magenta blooms of bougainvillea.

The sun smiles down, as it does

most of the time. The sea surrounds

and laps at the rocks like a lover

at your feet. Slowly the sun shifts.

Slowly the sidereal nighttime sky rolls around,

the moon, planets, constellations.

Boats sway on their moorings.

Americans dream in their moving berths.

Back home, for weeks in the future, they will rock

in their timeless dreams, their beds afloat

on lapis and turquoise inside

their quiet-colored northern houses.

But if, as I say, you have come to rest

in the glowing blue and green of the islands,

your swaying and rocking time is over.

And it seems nobody has anything but time here

where, all day, roosters step down the road

and crow in the knowledge of announcing God.


Nancy Keating‘s poems have been published by New Letters, The Gettysburg Review, Carolina Quarterly, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Stony Brook University (2019) and teaches at Farmingdale State College when she is not knitting.