At high tide, the tips of the masts are visible;
as the water recedes, they are canted, booms
and crossbars describing impossible angles;
the decks remain below, unseen, saturated.
I move on down, through the grey and blue,
rusted capstans, the gleam of rotting cannon,
rolling casks that have ended in the scuppers,
the ship’s cook endlessly relighting galley fires.
The crew gathers around me, signing wordlessly
to avoid the rocks; but the helmsman
is dead at the wheel, lolling in his chains
and today’s rum ration will be forever preserved.
Flood seeps up the hold companionway;
there have been horses here, tethered in stables,
and a cargo of ore and loose timber
which would have rolled free upon catastrophe.
A mute cabin boy shimmers in the darkness,
hair tousled, clothing disarrayed, a letter unwritten
to a mother who will never cease from waiting,
from calling his name into the oceanic void.
The sea-creatures phosphoresce in the gloom,
their blind gaze illuminating emptiness as I stare
at coil upon coil of rope, vast rectangles of canvas,
six-inch needles and thread in the sailmaker’s workshop.
‘I was a tailor on Cheapside’, he whispers, ‘until
the king’s men came, and my clothing was fine’;
but then there were shin-sails and top-gallants to patch,
and shrouds to fashion as homage to the widow-maker.
Swimming upward past the captain’s cabin,
an elegant scene unfolds, all scarlet and rosewood,
empanelled cupboards, ornate windows - stove in now
where starfish and the great eels make their kingdom.
Breaking the surface, clinging to a disintegrating spar,
I look out on the vast acres of swell and feel the tug
downward, ever downward, where vessel and man
are one in the push and pull of death’s dominion.