Notes from the Ocean
at the bow
and then a push
and they’re out,
into the ocean,
slamming on the brakes
and turning back
to do it again
A prison of ocean
encloses us all.
There is no escape.
A prison of fear
ensnares my thoughts.
The light of experience
suggests a way forward.
I wander as if in a dream.
A prism of a rainbow
glides across the ocean
towards me and only me.
I sing what I cannot understand.
I mouth the words because I know too much.
Volume is not meaning;
silence is not understanding.
I am standing at the stern,
my arms aloft, looking back,
bidding farewell to what have I missed,
and what I failed to make sense of.
Ten days without washing,
we stand on deck embracing a rain shower.
The rain is cold, it stings our sunburnt backs.
Then we warm. We put soap on our bodies
and the real downpour arrives.
Rain and rain and rain. Off the sails
it flows, then gushes. It slides
over our sun creamed skin,
so we can feels pores coming alive.
Slight is the thing which bends.
It is a filigree twisted into strength.
Flight is the thing which ends
with the withering wind and
begins our motion through the seas.
Songs make sense of the night.
On watch at four a.m. we retrieve
a night in a bar in Dublin
and the words of the Wild Rover.
I see Danny the Ducie fiddler
with his beatific expression
going through his Friday paces
and George the toothless barman
who played the spoons and downed Guinness
with the restless stealth of the guilty.
Spotted East of Guadalupe:
a red billed tropical bird.
Then we knew we’d arrived.
The bird circled the boat not once but twice,
curious at this strange sighting,
a wandering dream in rough watery reality,
a tropical figment in a world of sunlit glimpses.
It appeared to pause and then headed away,
its long tail bearing off with the wind.
If it was easy everyone would do it.
Discomfort and the imprisonment of days
is the true coinage of experience.
Over the time staring to sea
we are building our own currency
which will lie in our minds
as a hard-won and deserved treasure.
It can be shared but never repeated.
I have never understood that urge to tweak,
to change and alter in the name of improvement.
Why tinker when the weather is set fair
and we are on course? Sailing is an art.
There is science, but all sailors
believe they are artisans of the breeze,
tailoring their sails to an exact angle
every time, reeling in and letting out
the genoa when the timing is spot on.
Art is improvement –
the final brushstroke, the change of tint,
the vital word added to proofs,
the touch of the chisel on the capstone.
Science is explanation
and, in time, even the wind on the sails
and the waves on our bow will be explained.
After sixty metres the depth gauge goes blank,
too much sea to contemplate.
Sometimes at night the gauge flashes –
at 78 metres usually.
I imagine a whale swimming beneath us,
bemused at the blank black space above,
keeping us company for a mile or two
and then diving deeper and deeper.
The fish fight. Twenty minutes
and then the line snaps dead.
We had readied the grill and the limes
so sit and wait for another
to take the hook, diving long and deep,
wriggling for life on the surface
before being landed, killed
and prepared within the hour.
The fish tastes of life, vigour undimmed,
purity of spirit and diet,
and cooked up on a plate for us.
As I sleep the Atlantic is alive.
I can hear the swoosh and inhalations
of water like wet urgent breaths
somewhere through the hull.
The sea rushes back and then,
with a giant exhalation, pushes
us forward. Push and shove,
glide and grate, the sea is force,
power at our sides, coaxing
life where none existed, renewing
with each fresh wash of sound.
A prayer is extinguished by the salty wind
and what sounds like a cry
is heard and fades at our beam.
What voices of the seas are these?
Onwards we sail. The air is sugared and tropical,
Barbados threatens to come into view
but then disappoints us, hidden from our eyes.
The seas are never silent. The winds
winnow through the waves, sibilant
with movement, a fizz of Atlantic life
comes in glad response. What swirls
of current, circles teased from the straight,
the force of waves captured in an angle.
For the Atlantic, the land is the myth.
This is the ultimate force, watery cradle of being.
From Atlantic Crossing (St Giles Poets, 2015)