A song of water
When the sea was waking and the
Waves yawned loose,
He prayed on bent knees in a muted house
(this old decrepit man lived his days blind,
veined in poor, three sheets to the wind,
dreaded being sober; fished for his supper)
Prayed for a meal in a sea of calm.
And the gulls perched on his nets,
The slaughtered skiff floor with bait
(too proud to die among the flocks of fish);
The old man braved running the gambit
Of waves, hooks in his hands, salted wounds;
The wind choired and cloistered, brawled
With the sea, banged guilt on the skiff’s rudder.
Of darkening clouds, a shudder of rain
(heaven’s crier, aspiring for a storm),
Monstrous or immoral, living flesh to a
Watery grave; fate not telling, death in the
Waves. Never shall the old man’s chant
Be heard, carved forever in brine; yet his
Fate got lucky, washed half-dead on a beach
(endless breviary turned by his aged hands).
Ballad of the Agnes Jack
Her bow glided down into the sea
Covered thinly with waves at first;
And the bird coast blackened,
Thrashing rain trodded down,
Rang the cobbles, clanged the bell.
Then good-bye to the sailing barque
With its canvas torn and free
As an albatross hooked over the sea,
High and forlorn by the top of the mast.
Blew the wind, a long wailing sound,
And the bulwarks creaked and quailed;
For my sake iron nail, hold us to the gale
Said the seafaring brig-rigged vessel.
Her sails gulped the wind
And in waves black as night
She sped into the drinking dark;
The morn, shipwrecked on a shoal
As the moon swam out of its hulk.
Timber and masts splintered in a whirl;
Good-bye the sailor on the sea-legged deck,
To the fish gut that sings on his heel
To the drowned that stalk out of the sack.
Good-bye to homes chimney stacks,
Burdened wives that spin in the smoke,
Men are blind to the eyes of candles
In praying windows of waves and tide.
Ship’s anchor swings like a pendulum
In its fuming bow, rakes along the shoal;
A squall of birds bellowed and fell,
A cloud blew the rain from its throat.
And nothing shone on the water’s face,
Not Jesu’s stream, not an oar in its lock;
The Agnes Jack plunged like a humpbacked
Ton, lured to its final resting place.
Upon the whitecap waves, the laid veils,
The black nooses tied round their lungs;
Strike and smooth, the decks their drums,
That drifting sound, that drifting death.
One by one in dust and shawl, wives clung
To the hand of the sea; goodbye always
For their prayers are cast like echoes into the
Prophets of dunes; the headstones of sand.
Beyond the breakwater
On a balcony of rocks, clouds with their
Crutches walk stiffened and folded;
Washed sheets of waves engrave themselves
In the barnacles;
The long coffins of shipwrecks anchored like
Moles in the sand
Stretch for miles, clanging the death toll-
The sea is sick with what
It has swallowed:
Limbs, images, shrieks;
It cannot bandage its terrible faults.
How superior it is, like a touched saint-
Its pallors of sea mist
Veined into glassfuls of holy water;
It is consumed by silent fishermen, then
Hung by a tided cord,
Drowned in a wet tomb; the toeless foot of
This saint plumbs their souls.
And the onlookers- obscene on a shore,
Their tongues, coffins of ash.
Their sorrow, empty benches of memory.
Their faces turning, wordless and slow.
I, standing in the sea sand, watching
Mock those who deride the dead;
My heart’s blood still as a tidal pool.
A dry wind blows, pushed up by the hairs of
The sea; it steers through salt,
Rooted wave and roe. It is a time unraveller,
Its scissors oiled,
Cuts the invisible, clocking tides-
They shall not be latched to the faith of those
Who have perished fulfilling a dream.