The Bowsprit Chronicles
I gaze where the ship points me. On up-swells
I glimpse clouds; swinging down, I peer
into the keel-split water. I am always proud,
even disdainful: I slight porpoise and albatross
without favour. I am the sailor’s muse, the ship’s courage.
This fact sings in my cedar blood.
I go first. The lady leads the way. There are zircon harbours
in the tropics into which I glide: a queen with her retinue
of masts and flags and white sails, sailors skimming
up and down the rigging nimble-footed, alive with the prospect
of grog tonight and easy women. While they are gone
I refuse to miss them.
I give them my best smile next morning as they saunter to the dock.
My best cracked maiden’s wince. I go first. Out of the harbour,
feeling the weight of fresh water in the holds, goat meat
and pineapples, the sailors with their sore heads and balls
hauling on the mainsail, singing shanties to banish
their fear of the sea.
When the ocean’s rough I sew it: in and out, in and out,
the interminable waves like oncoming satin,
vast nightmare curtains swishing and swashing,
slippery, the seam refusing to close, raw unmatchable edges
fraying as soon as I touch them. I will tell you now
my salted secret:
even with arms to gather the winds to my cleavage;
even with fingers to smooth the rucked fabric of the sea;
even with tongue to sing every lullaby I ever learned
from drowning sailors as their lips were greening –
even with these scented skills, I could not hold these storms.
I go first: into the reef if necessary.
I had the very great pleasure of hearing Sue read at the Thistle Inn on my last night in Wellington recently. This poem comes from her first collection – Hourglass (Steele Roberts 2005). Sue told me she checks out the poems I post from time to time, so now I am really on my mettle to seek out wondrous work, work that really brings me out in a sweat or gets my blood boiling so I may amaze her. There is nothing quite like poetry, I find, to usher amazement in.