will come as we perform the mundane toil,
say, tossing the breakfast scraps astern,
or washing down the maindeck under the oblongs
of sail-shadow. The morning sun
will mint its coins across a lazy sea,
the weather tacks and sheets will rise and fall
in languid intersectings of the sea-rim.
And there, so sudden, ordinary, too close
to dodge, or do anything about but wait for
with quiet interest, will be the thing of hearsay,
cigar profile, stub tower, little gun, so credible,
for all that it will be the first such vessel
we will have seen outside some journal's
Through his loudhailer,
the officer will be polite, but firm,
reading the English translation from a card.
Fifteen minutes. We'll stow such extra food,
water, charts, as time will allow,
also oilskins, a mouth organ, a piece
of unfinished scrimshaw perhaps, but not clothes,
then lower the boats, and stand off from the barque
at the distance we will have been directed to.
Oddest for our sense of what is proper
will be the sight of the helm unmanned out there
in open sea.
And this will be the manner
a moment in time will surface to say, Of course
your lives are free, of course they are compelled,
as we watch, quiescent, attentive, the lifeboats,
gentle as hammock-sway in the swell beneath us,
the little gun puffing its little smoke,
and thin smoke oozing from somewhere on board.
Gradually our home will lean into
its odd stricken angle, and spill wheatgrain
from the holes in her side, slipping under,
natural as a sleeper turning under blankets.
When it is done, the captain will salute us
just once, the submarine chug away, routine
as a mailboat.
And without undue hardship
we will survive, but no-one there will serve
in sailing ships again. This is how
an ancient confidence will vanish
casually like a fashion in jokes. Instead
we'll live into a time strange to us,
we'll live aware of how the unborn have
their faces turned away from all we took
for granted, as, stubborn or quizzical, we will
submit to someone else's scheme of what
is pressing, waste on the floor of life's renewal.
And if this quiet impending morning leaves
one thought in mind, it might be wheatgrain
fanning from a ship across the ocean's dark
like brassy beads, like fabulous golden blood.
by Alan Gould
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