On Pitcairn by Carrie Murphy


Pitcairn is an isolated island about halfway between New Zealand and Chile. It was settled by mutineers from the H.M.S. Bounty and their Tahitian companions in 1790. The settlement was plagued by illness and violence; by 1800, only one adult male was left on the island. The population remained isolated throughout the next 150 years, despite becoming a British colony in 1838. The island came into the public eye in 2004 when six Pitcairn men (a third of the male population) went on trial for the sexual abuses of minors, a practice that has a purported long history and tradition on the island. Islanders insisted early sexual activity was a normal and accepted cultural practice on Pitcairn. Investigators concluded that virtually every female growing up on Pitcairn in the last 40 years had been sexually abused. Today, Pitcairn has about 50 inhabitants from nine families.


On Pitcairn

On Pitcairn the girls grow banana-wild and
babies have skulls shaped like coconuts.
The women have hair that smells of
salt after a storm and the boys run
on legs thick like masts. The shipwreck
stares up from the bay, a big dead
mouth. Everybody eats breadfruit.

The men are on the mountains, looking down.
The men are combing long beards
and carving long sticks to walk with.
The men want to talk but they don’t
know how. The men know how
to sail but they won’t sail away.
The men put their long fingers
around the slim vines.
The men plant their feet into the
broad beach.

Everybody writes love letters.
Little girls write love letters.
Men have dark handwriting and
nobody puts a message in a bottle.
The women are watching,
then not watching. The
little boys are unsticking
envelopes and their fathers
are out getting stamps.
The rocks on the beach are still sharp,
they do not become smooth.

Everybody goes barefoot and swings
through the banyan trees, pretends
to dangle off cliffs. Babies cut
their teeth on whittled wood.
Daughters dance at the edge
and boys know how to find blood.
The women rise like fishing line
and ebb like the lowest tide.
The blue ocean is blurring
and blurring into the sky.

In the whitewash church, the families
hold hands and pray. Boys to girls,
wives to husbands, grandmothers
to grandfathers. Everybody raises
their voice to the wind and the
wind smells like hibiscus and the
hibiscus can sing away the ships.
On Pitcairn, even the flowers
know how to sing away the ships.


Mutiny on the Bounty

Breadfruit is what we came for, green and brain-shaped. We came to spread
our seed around the howling Pacific, to make food for the men who serve the men
who pay for us to be free on the high ocean. Christian was bloodless and didn’t want a
fight, stared at Bligh down the barrel of his gun. Bligh got in the tiny boat, and we all
cracked our teeth on breadfruit as he got smaller and smaller. I am in hell I am in hell.

Tahiti is breezes breadfruit breasts, sweat and salty legs, baby in the belly, broken wood,
hold a coconut against your cheek, put a flower in your dark dark hair, gather men and

A Thursday in October is when Thursday was born, no name of England, mother
squatting on the black rock. English ruffled collars runny noses sonorous voices of
powerful men and we’re gone and we’re gone forever and we’re by ourselves surrounded
by a sky the color of baby veins and a sea as black as the back of a throat.


For Kari Young

Little blonde girl popcorn legs sticking to the seats sees Clark Gable feels a twitter twinge
his slick hair the way he sailed the ship smiles his shirt billowing like sails later she takes
tea with the Queen sugary sweet her husband’s eyes her husband’s eyes your husband’s
eyes Clark Gable your island.


Bounty Bay

We are all marooned in the bay.
We must row out to sea.
The ship is speaking, why can’t you hear it.
In Pitcairn we say angry, we mean ugly.
We mean ugly.


Wanta Bike?
This phrase is said to have been code for “Want to have sex?” in Pitcairn parlance.

Fast through the island hold on tight to his back don’t pinch your toe in the spokes. Back behind the banyan trees under the cool green leaves water rushing in your ears rushing in your eyes. A finger. A mouth. The bright orb. The thin line. Your face puckered in the rounding of the handlebars.



If You Would Like to Take a Walk Down There
All text taken from pitcairntravel.pn

Home to the descendants of the Bounty Mutineers
and their Tahitian consorts. We invite and encourage
people who is easygoing, fun loving and who seek.
If you want to get adventures
and collect bananas,
view our top spots and
give you your bearings.
For instance, the stain never comes out
of clothing so don’t bring you best
clothes and white things may never
be white again!

We have electricity for 10 hours per day
– five in the morning and five in the evening.
For a relaxing time, you might like to sit back
with a book and scan the crystal clear ocean
and take your own photo. Sit
where Fletcher Christian sat
and pondered his rebellious actions.
Meal times can be arranged to suit you.
There are many other things to do
on this little

If you are visiting and it is
a local’s birthday, you may be
invited to a public dinner
where we all celebrate
with the birthday boy or
girl of any age.



Mothers and fathers
have soft feet in the night
have silent feet in the night.
The sound of the ocean hitting
a black rock. The sound of
spit hung between two mouths.
The swallow.


The men charged with sexual crimes on Pitcairn were sentenced to Her Majesty’s Pitcairn Island Prison, which was built by men living on the island, including those convicted. The last prisoner was released in 2009, and the jail may soon be converted into a guesthouse.


The small raised red
where the rock
cut into your spine.
A salt-water rinse.
Everyone’s eyes are blue,
even when they’re not.

Your white foot;
not sand.

The other side of the island,
an open door flaps
in the wind.

Waiting for glass to come on the next ship;
we’ll make a window.


Island Song/Adamstown

Cliff wind cliff lantana the generator going off. The generator coming on. Coming on and
off and on and off. Hibiscus, cliff, the generator, the wind.

Preacher’s wife with her amber eyes don’t go down the beach alone

Knife against wood shavings fall blow away; a model Bounty.

Mayor with barnacle eyes.

Mother with eyes as blue as where the water jumps over the rock.

Wind don’t go down the beach alone cliff cliff cliff.

Mother weaving baskets, father whittling ships.

Put a postage stamp on it and send it into the sea.



Carrie Murphy  is the author of the poetry collection PRETTY TILT (Keyhole Press, 2012) and the chapbook, MEET THE LAVENDERS (Birds of Lace, 2011). Her second full-length book, FAT DAISIES, is forthcoming in 2014 from Big Lucks Books. She received an MFA from New Mexico State University. Originally from Baltimore, MD, Carrie works as a teacher, freelance writer, and birth doula in Albuquerque, NM.