|Jul/Aug 2011 Poetry Special Feature
Photo by Clinton Northway
The Shipwrecked Man and the Sea
After the Arthur Rackham illustration in Aesop's Fables
Note first that the man is not the focus.
He is a small figure on a narrow beach,
head bowed as if the victim of rebuke.
The sand streams with water as the sea's flux
and mania recede, taking with them
his broken ship and the bodies of his men.
The stones at his feet glimmer in the aftermath
of storm, might be revealed to be diamonds
and sapphires, worthless riches. The man
speaks to the sea who owns everything
he stands on, who has risen before
him in the form of a naked goddess.
She has spread her white arms wide
as if she performed a ceremony,
and while her flesh is what he expects,
paleness that mimics death, he does not think
to find her beautiful. His eyes sneak up
to follow water gushing over her breasts
and from her hands. Short hair makes a shining
helmet on her head, and he knows that she
is not kind or fair, but still he asks why she
entices sailors with her calm surface, why
she holds them under until they drown.
In reply, she blames the wind she borrows,
her own rage, the hunger that leads her
to consume without end, and the answer
gives him nothing that he wants. She doesn't
even take him with her when she plunges
back to the depths, his ship grasped tight,
wrecked chalice of a mystery he has helped
to celebrate but can never understand.