Wednesday, September 21, 2011

By Ships We Live - Bill Sewell

By Ships We Live - Bill Sewell

It was a tingling in the balls that told them,
like edging too close to a rock face:

a twist of the tide, the slop of the swell,
the mercenary attentions of seabirds.

Out of the blue they broke,
the sails, the expectations, the names.

Takitimu, Heemskerck, Endeavour:
how they transported their history

as a deadening freight, as baggage,
barnacles clinging like grievances to the keel.

Then the commerce would begin:
footprints for sand; words for silence.

There, not just as the unusual event,
the sudden flaw on the curve,

but by the month, by the day,
feeling their way along the chart

for that orifice in the cliffs
and making their run through the heads:

Orpheus, Tararua, Penguin,
all finding out just how intolerant

of carelessness this coast can be,
once you sail out of line.

Yet the masts still thickened ashore,
the funnels exhaled bad faith

(according to the terms of the bargain).
While men went below as into a mine

to dig out the lampblack
that darkened their days and their lungs

and the names of the ships that carried it:
Korowai, Myrtlebank, Asun├žion de Larrinaga.

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