The Encantadas

Karen Alkalay-Gut

Ezra Gut




A Thought 3

Customs. 4

Natural Sorcery. 5

Schopenhauer 6

The  sultan sea lion. 7

The Surface. 8

Time. 9

a myriad of constellations. 10

Fregata magnificens. 11

The Crowd at the Rail 12

White Bellied Dolphin. 13

Tortoises. 14

From Here Be Dragons. 15

Day of the Iguana. 16

A lone flamingo. 19

Lost Souls, Lost Bodies. 20

The Crab. 22

A cormorant stretches. 23

Idle Gossip. 25

The Comfort of Kings. 26


environment 28

Dying Generations. 29

Shells. 31




A Thought


I wouldn't want a paradise.

John and Bob and Sam Hall knew

it's too simple just to be

good, without judgments

to make every moment,

new encounters to encourage

revision and insight.  Living

as I do, equidistant from

Armageddon and Gehenna,

and not all that far from where

the Bible places Eden

my dreams teeter

like a dinghy in high tide

but with no one shore in sight.


But dream I do



Take five-and-twenty heaps of cinders dumped here and there in an outside city lot, imagine some of them magnified into mountains, and the vacant lot the sea, and you will have a fit idea of the general aspect of the Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles. A group rather of extinct volcanoes than of isles, looking much as the world at large might after a penal conflagration.




You’d do anything for a sunflower

What do you care how ragged it is?

Say you're in the usual line at the airport

because a terrorist is suspected

or someone wore an unknown sort of back brace

or the computer is not coordinating as it should

or the weather didn't go the way of predictions


And you've said something unforgiveable like

'Is this the way it should be?'

and the soldier suddenly gets jumpy about your tone

justifiably, you realize in retrospect,


And that sunflower, standing in some dustheap,

would have put your soul in place

better than any perfect rose


Natural Sorcery

Indeed, there are seasons when currents quite unaccountable prevail for a great distance round about the total group, and are so strong and irregular as to change a vessel's course against the helm, though sailing at the rate of four or five miles the hour. The difference in the reckonings of navigators produced by these causes, along with the light and variable winds, long nourished a persuasion that there existed two distinct clusters of isles in the parallel of the Encantadas, about a hundred leagues apart…And this apparent fleetingness and unreality of the locality of the isles was most probably one reason for the Spaniards calling them the Encantada, or Enchanted Group.



The tides move one way

the wind another

and enchanted islands

may rise from the earth



as the pronouncement

of a demon

or simply a reminder

that the world is not ours

to comprehend




Schopenhauer and I are sitting in the dinghy

And he says, "Get that stupid grin off your face.

"Just because you've got the helm doesn't mean

you know where you're going.  You don't even comprender

the lingo of the navigator, and you have no idea

where we expect to land."


I veer a little bit, unnecessarily, to straighten out.

I could go on this way all day, I say,

without a single doubt.  See my pilot? 

He shouts – Tortuga! – and points.


And there's nothing in the complex world

I care more about, than riding alongside Carlos

and tortoises all the way.



The  sultan sea lion



Calls out to his harem

Come away from those strange beings

emerging from the sea


But the females will not listen

insist on swimming out to us

cavorting and snorting

and seeking our eyes


welcoming us

Into a world of paradise


If only we agree

to ignore the rules

to make our own pleasures

to create our own connections





The Surface


Both [Albemarle and Narborough islands] are covered with immense deluges of black naked lava, which have flowed either over the rims of the great caldrons, like pitch over the rim of a pot in which it has been boiled, or have burst forth from smaller orifices on the flanks; in their descent they have spread over miles of the sea-coast….



The oldest secrets

eternally pouring

from the center of the earth

confound us in their variety of exits.

Cracks and holes, chinks and faults -

varying temperatures alone - braid the surface.


One crevice seems to invite you in;

another warns something terrifying may emerge

if you dare put your finger



And yet they look

The same





The old man

holds his woman’s hand

as they stand

on the bare volcanic shore.


“Can you imagine?

These waves have been lapping

just like this

for four million years!”




a myriad of constellations



a myriad of stars

appear in the equatorial skies


I don’t know the names  

of what became suddenly visible

when the clouds parted.


I can identify only Mars

by its color, and a constellation

here and there. 


But so many, so clear!

Numbering them

would be

beyond my daring.






Fregata magnificens


The Frigate bird swoops

 down from great heights

to steal the digested food

the simple Booby was feeding

to her surviving chick.


It is all so quick

she doesn’t grasp

what has occurred


and continues to look

as stupid as her name.


We spectators,

who want to believe

in compassion,


cannot grasp

that what has just occurred

will occur again

and again


that his laws

are far more ancient

than ours.

The Crowd at the Rail

In no world but a fallen one could such lands exist.


The illuminated stadium is below –

We are the cheering hordes

peering over the deck


calling to each other excitedly


as the creatures

unaware of the applause

perform Darwin.


A sea lion swallows a squid

to our unmitigated joy,


The pelican moves two webs from the dinghy’s path

reluctant to give up this spot where the fish

crowd to the light, then swims in the shadows

like Jack, waiting in the dark streets of London.


Then suddenly it begins running, a Jesus,

over the water, and the fish (poor prey) flies

in the air, skips over the water and escapes


While a pair of frigate birds, indifferent,

pass overhead.

White Bellied Dolphin



Perhaps I was too far away

but I swear

I thought I saw

the dolphins smile

as one of them

turned a triple somersault

high into the air. 


Were they showing off for our ship

like samba schools in Rio?


In any case,

we were right there,

sipping coffee on the deck

when they came by

to renew our day




Lasting sorrow and penal hopelessness are in no animal form so suppliantly expressed as in theirs; while the thought of their wonderful longevity does not fail to enhance the impression.



We have nothing in common

You look at me with the wisdom

Of centuries and I am born anew here.





From Here Be Dragons

The rocks on the coast abounded with great black lizards, between three and four feet long;

                                                                Charles Darwin


They are all over the island

black iguanas bellies down on the rock

with one hand on the other

like an Escher drawing


“If they are all cold blooded

what makes them so cling to one another?

What makes them touch

just five long fingers?”


“And these are all female,

sisters of the same rock!”


“There must be a frailness about them

that needs the comfort of others,”

I plead. 

“Darwin did not make the only rules.

There  must be other origins in deed.”




Day of the Iguana


They do not seem to have any notion of biting; but when much frightened they squirt a drop of fluid from each nostril.


I don’t know who began this staring match.


I’ve been going through these walks like a normal tourist,

admiring colors, grace, sweet maternal gestures,

a lost pup, a fatherly booby, a thieving frigate bird,

anything that approaches

the human in its behavior.  Like the fact

that they do not move when you come by,

sitting on the trail as if it had been made

for their own pleasure, a bench in paradise.


The iguana catches my eye

not like a lover but a wiser being,

in charge of Eden, and my curious gaze

a challenge

to his older authority.


But he does not agitate his head

as he would had I been a male

after his harem.  He remains




I listen to the Naturalist

discussing volcanic remains

and keep my eye on the iguana,

he on me.  I move to one side.

something in that eye stays,

keeping me entranced.

I move back, watching. 

He spits a wide spray forward and I jump.


The Naturalist explains

he is sneezing, releasing the salt

of the algae he’d consumed. 


And I keep looking, sure

that if that iguana isn’t telling me

to get off his path 

I’m an idiot and don’t deserve

to share his space at all. 


The spray comes again,


Then again.


And I relinquish

all mastery.



No matter what

the learned Naturalist says,


three snorts from an iguana

and I know my place.








A lone flamingo


in a clear lagoon

Kisses the image in the pool

As if there is no one else

In paradise.


Lost Souls, Lost Bodies


And truly neither fish, flesh, nor fowl is the penguin; as an edible, pertaining neither to Carnival nor Lent; without exception the most ambiguous and least lovely creature yet discovered by man. Though dabbling in all three elements, and indeed possessing some rudimental claims to all, the penguin is at home in none

-- Melville


The penguins of the Galapagos

hopping languidly

over the volcanic rocks,

seem like

Plato’s puppets,

imitations alone

of the real


in Antarctica.


Dingy and duck-beaked,

they appear still befuddled

at their strange surroundings

where the Humboldt current dropped them off

generations ago.


Almost waiting

for the boat to take them

back to their own country.


And the Booby, the crab,

the wild creatures in the dinghy

don’t help their refugee souls

feel one bit at home.



The Crab

You should have been

King of Denmark


Ruthless and beautiful

you rule the restless creases

of your mound as if

all the other creatures

were not meant

to be. 



A cormorant stretches


His vestigial wings,


feathery combs widespread

to their fullest range  --


Reaching out,

just to show us all


He is the king

of this rock.





Idle Gossip

The rocks on the coast abounded with great black lizards, between three and four feet long; and on the hills, an ugly yellowish-brown species was equally common. We saw many of this latter kind, some clumsily running out of the way, and others shuffling into their burrows….

                                                                Charles Darwin


Walking among the volcano holes

those little bubbles of petrified pudding,

Judy and I sit to rest on a shelf

facing the sea


chattering of the quandaries

of dressing our age

and what we can possibly do

with our nails.


We go on for a while

before we see

we are sharing our  shelf

our talk

with a large





who is clearly



and obviously

has much

to learn from us.

The Comfort of Kings


Now here is one iguana

with whom I can relate

His face white with age

inhaling the knowledge of us

with studied indifference


There will be another group

of tourists

along soon.






“All we must do

not to interfere

with natural selection

is return the Galapagos

to their pristine state,”

the environmentalist said

and I spun around to see

the irony, the smile.


But he was as grave

as if he knew his Darwin

and it read

like the Bible.




It’s something I have to learn

the idea of saving nature

not the individual.


When Fernando told us

about the group stoning a cat

because it had to hunt the birds to live

and was destroying the endemic balance

I flinched

as if it had been me


How can a lover

learn to kill


Dying Generations


Seventy thousand goats were shot on Isabella Island

seventy thousand goats munching the greenery

seventy thousand goats devouring the food

of the local tortoises, endangered enough

without this famine.


                                Seventy thousand goats

found in the mountains because betrayed

by the Judas goats who found the males

who lusted after them, and brought the hunters too.


My lover has a friend who got the job

of hunting them, one after the other.


And they were all pleased

they had freed the isle.


Seventy thousand goats were shot on Isabella Island

seventy thousand goats eating the greenery

seventy thousand goats devouring the food

of the local tortoises, endangered enough

without this famine.




But then

they weren’t goats.


They hadn’t been brought there

by some humans

and survived

until humans

decided otherwise.





How the weird reptilian fear overtakes me,

even though it is clear the giant tortoise

trudging slowly in my direction,

means only good,

a  kind of easy greeting in his eyes.

I move away, and when he turns toward me,

back off again, step behind the crowd,

primordially infantile.    


It is only in a photograph, a poem, 

That I dare cross the line.