For several years I spent a good part of every summer sailing. I loved learning nautical terms, tying knots, navigating, but I always remained respectful, perhaps even overly cautious, about the weather and what it can do to water. Sailing in the Chesapeake, a relatively shallow bowl of water, one learns quickly not to mess with squalls or storms as they can whip up the waves dangerously. I don’t know what made me write this old-fashioned poem but it must have been the approaching summer, memories of being on the water, and too many sea shanties in my head.
It was a fair wind, nothing to fear in the way it ruffled and snapped
The water was sprightly, curling beneath the keel like batter
around blender blades.
I dozed, lulled by the whshh-thump-whshh of fiberglass kissing
water, one eye half-open
as I watched gulls pinwheel around the mast tick-tocking
through the sky.
Then, feeling a sudden chill, I glanced toward the horizon and saw,
rising up, an alpen ridge
of clouds that laid a dark cloak across the water turning it sullen
as if to warn there are secrets below—secrets I cared not to know.
For most human claims upon the sea
are met with mockery—as easy as a giant swats a fly she seals
our doom and her ascendancy.
Arrogance, when in her neighborhood, results in broken masts
and stove-in hulls
and empty decks where just before a boat mate stood. So I thought best
to turn my leaping boat around
though, as I said, the wind was fair, the shrouds in song, the keel dug
deep into the waves.
Fair-weather sailor I may be, but such warnings I take seriously.
When thunderheads loom
on the horizon, I head for harbor’s calm. There are those more foolish or braver
than I who’ve chosen
to ignore these signs. Some have lived to tell their tale but many more are gone,
now plying some invisible shore.