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, Asunçion de Larrinaga.