Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ship Master's Departure

We tightened sails against north wind,
bright foam in the prow by day,
the ghostly wake by night,
good going, Tallahassee
to Havana’s baked walls,
tons of combed cotton on board
and a good trade ahead, we laid
up in Key West with mail,
an oak desk for the customs men,
and for the mayor’s daughter a dress,
certainly the best south of Miami.
Here are the bills now. See
the tidy sums collected, and here
the business settled in Cuba,
and there sweet casks of rum
for New Orleans to fetch,
so we turned about and fared
tacking fast north to Louisiana,
and I can tell you how the boys looked
hard over the horizon, days running
well into those sharp waves.
Not one squall until
we took on the pilots. Rain
and eddies in the delta like
to pile you smack against the stumps,
but we made harbor, left a shift
aboard for watch that evening the boys
set out for foolishness, their pockets
full. I tell you…
        But here I come,
Sir, to hand you back these bills,
say adieu to your immaculate
offices and to you, with whom
I have no quarrel, our business settled.

Texas maybe. Or Kansas. Peugeot’s
sound, although I’d not sail
but trade ashore, buy fragrant
cargo from Valparaiso, Quito,
maybe emeralds packed from donkeys
to the Pacific shore to dazzle some baron’s
wife in San Francisco. Sailing:
no more for me. I’ll make my coffee
on a tallgrass prairie, trade in corn
and beans, whisky too to outrun
Mormons in their pine mountain
passes. Indians like the stuff, don’t they?
Don’t look at me that way. I’ve thought
my life through. I can’t take the tidewater’s
stench any longer. I mean no offense,
but you see, there’s so much more
and I mean to grip it here.
Shake hands. Your hire’s been honest,
but the sun shines everywhere. I’ll take
to it by wheels and not look back.
Dakota Territory. Far Yukon.

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