Letter from Shuyak Island, Alaska
by Helena Minton
To my grandmother
I liked to sit at your dressing table.
Whiskey-colored perfumes smelled of dust.
The photograph beside the mirror showed
a serious face, a man in pince-nez
who died the year I was born.
Nights, lying on the fold-out couch,
I was surrounded: mahogany, Chinese lamps,
and paintings of forests
boxed in by big gold frames.
Nature felt confining,
closing in as you grew old.
This summer I sleep on a barge,
stare at spruce and sky
as I walk on this island which hasn’t changed
since our Celtic ancestors invaded Ireland.
1909 you were twenty-two
I picture you in Boston
practicing piano scales
the day Mount Augustine—the volcano
I see from the beach—spilled lava into the sea.
Perhaps you saw it in the paper, perhaps
not, concerned with music or men or money,
gold-rimmed plates and goblets of your future.
If you thought of any other world
it was Europe, Strauss waltzes,
a honeymoon tour before the war.
PHOTO: The 2006 eruption of Augustine Volcano, which forms Augustine Island in south central coastal Alaska, 174 miles southwest of Anchorage. Photo by Cyrus Read Geophysicist USGS, Alaska Volcano Observatory.