On the linoleum planks of a cruise ship
midnight sky breathes
purple dust on me. The ocean ringing in my ears.
I wonder which ocean troubles me most:
the ocean of poetry, so vast, engulfed
in sinking metaphors of life
meeting death through powdery horizon.
Or the ocean environmentalists caution me against—
Graying feverish moan of toxic
But it’s the ocean seeping
quietly dampening molecules
containing freeze-dried secrets.
It promises to expose them.
Something in me needs to understand
the heart of a killer.
Someone in me recites obscure plays
by forgotten 15th century writers
who all lost their fame to Shakespeare.
All the oceans find each other,
one leaking its information to the next
until they invent a uniform rhythm:
spraying, rocking, shouting
curse words, the cure for cancer,
tips for better home living.
When there is a desperate squeak like an engine
devouring the last of its oil,
the ocean dries up as the shore appears.
One orange speck at a time.
As the night falls back into the same place I met it,
the oceans murmur their dying desires:
They want me to find transcendence
before it’s too late.
But the pizza buffet closed at nine o’clock.
I have a loose theory
there is a big steel tank hidden in the heart
of the ship.
When I close my eyes, tucked away in twisted
cotton imposter, in stiff air-conditioned slumber,
there is a gritty rumbling, and among it,
high-pitched dog whistle cries
I’m afraid I’ll sleepwalk
dragging bare, sunburned feet. The broadness
in my shoulders and stance
When I reach the center of the ship
I’ll climb each rung up the side of the tank,
waking only when I’m at the top.
Deep gray rubber pulsating,
by his own wisdom.
Moby Dick has been captured,
left to contemplate existentialism
in transit to Mexico.
I want to reach out and touch his skin,
feeling equal parts slime and blanket.
Did anyone ever love him?
Do whales have souls that plummet into thick
atmospheric holes with the speed of death
I have a loose theory
Herman Melville writes me letters
from wherever he is. I get the feeling
he doesn’t know or care who I am.
He scratches ink to paper fervently trying to understand
depression he mistakes for mediocrity.
I don’t know how to respond to him,
how to share with him the same honest chord
that plugs me into the ocean rhythm .
I’m not sure if he’s Ishmael or Bartleby or just plain
Melville. I’m afraid he’s not certain.
I’m afraid I’m not certain
we will ever find each other
trapped in separate compartments of this earthly space.
It’s a half hour too late
when we reach the cruise ship dinner table draped
in pink table cloth the shade of tired faces.
What shape are our napkins folded in tonight?
God knows our lives depend on it.
—and you think I’m joking.
Two older men perched at our table.
They tell us they’ll buy us whatever
wine we like, in hopes to discover
where our tan lines end.
We prefer a bold Shiraz, they prefer blonde
fuzz on the smalls of our backs.
But where is our bread?
Where is our butter?
We wait. Our napkin swans mutilated,
flattened to stretch across our laps
forever. One man whispers divorce
while the other coughs unemployed.
We smile sweetly through their ribs,
seeing shallow encasings
holding what now beats slower.
Someone makes a toast:
To being young again!
We fan ourselves on deck ten,
the sun smearing yellow slabs of light in our eyes.
You know there are cruises that don’t stop at ports;
they go nowhere
—my friend informs me.
But I need to be moving towards something
at all times.
He won’t call me back;
he says he’s drunk but he misses me.
—the other one whines through a smile of toothy lament.
We all nod in counterfeit agreement.
Within each nod exists a gated community.
This is love. A false sense of security.
Everybody who so much as glances overboard
Have you ever seen someone rumored to be dead?
Mumbling in a corridor, locked out of his office
again. Unaware of his ghostliness, still treating life
like a linear passage through square buildings.
I find relief in his life before me,
but there is a trapdoor in every human heart
where we hide to romanticize a beautiful life once lived.
—This is where I am when I watch people disembark
the heaving white ship.
Everyone has spent five days
sifting through the inner-debris, finding
The woman with ocean wavy
black hair has equally deep southern accent
and eyes. She budges the sandwich line and we let her;
in this world no one will ever be denied
swiss cheese and turkey on sourdough.
The piano player has crooked white fingers
bending into the keys that promise Billy Joel
while the sun sets. He traded his songbook
for Ray Charles replica sunglasses.
The waiter in his flimsy bow-tie, off kilter,
hurries on a graceful slant
to serve us filet mignon.
Our bodies all adjusted (medium) well
the disjointed, rhythmic scale of the ocean.
I will see these people years later
off the ship: one arguing with a cashier about
the sale price of shampoo; another shouting epithets
against the wind, chasing after a loose dream or dog;
the last under a tree with tangled leaves, sobbing
what course comes next?
I will think I recognize a sense of mercy in them,
worlds folding into each other, a blue-green symmetry
of united territory and memory.
But let’s not try to be too deep here
—I’ll remind myself,
the eternally unreliable narrator
always mistaking ghosts for people.