I saw a vast ocean on which sailed the fleets of every navy that had ever
been. The ocean was still too vast for them. The fleets were specks
of color on a canvas that was light and movement. Years and months
fell like snowflakes.
The fleets met rarely, and always without warning: a swell would fall and
there they'd be, and then they mostly traded.
The Phoenicians traded with the Spanish Armada, and Soviet submarines
surfaced like whales to swap beluga caviar for bootlegged tapes of
Frank Sinatra or the Ottoman Empire's famous rugs.
It was easy to communicate when everyone had the same questions: who
are you? do you know what has happened? have you seen land? have
you found a way out?
Only once or twice did navies pass each other silent running and the admirals
would not stop for tea or schnapps, remnants of the old creation, poor
Only once or twice were shots fired, and those shots fell in sea mist, and the
men who gave the orders were set adrift on the small boats of their
disgrace, rudderless and without provisions.
You showed me your crow's nest and how to trust my human eyes, and to
navigate by stars and sexton, and to smell with my sea nose where
we'd been. I learned that solitude is riches.
And when I showed you sonar—that to hear is to see—you stood transfixed,
and afterwards played such strange music on your flute your
shipmates had to listen and had to admit the beauty of it though
many did not want to.
What kind of prison is this, with the windows and the doors wide open? And
a map transmitted endlessly, in the rat-a-tat of rigging in a stiff breeze,
in the cry of seagulls at sunset, in the path the moon paves on the
waves: live in peace live in peace live in peace live in peace, until
we get it right.
American Poetry Review
September / October 2012