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
There are mornings where there is a quiet
Crease on your side of the bed
You got up early and are drinking coffee
With last night’s sleep still on your teeth
You sit at the computer as though you’re paused—
There’s your flannel jacket, stiff against your skin
Holding you together like a bullet casing
Your brown hair was the explosion and the silent
aftermath is the flattened curls that itch you
It’s on these mornings that you feel you’d be better
suited standing on the frontlines of a war
Where common courtesy is an unmarked grave
No one visits.
Dying for something in which you vehemently believe
You’d carefully place your faith in that bottle with tweezers
The ship that’s anchored, that by going nowhere
means that it has already seen the world and sewed it shut.
I could walk for miles in our house and still not find you
You’re in the cupboards and beneath the floorboards but
You’re peeling away like wallpaper. You’re the tree who feels nothing
When I tear away your bark
When you’re in pause, I have to watch you
Hide the sharp objects, tiptoe to the kitchen,
Make my world scarce — distant land from your boat
Two desolate specs; neither can move.
I may have said something all wrong last night.
Did you know that words don’t go away?
The sound waves just get further and further apart over time
One day someone may be able to listen to the conversation we had
To slice through atoms which tenderly house each utterance
Protecting them from the bubble bursters, the people who say
forgive and forget
There’s a point to all of this, and I am sure if you were here
You’d want me to get to it quicker.
But we’re going to need your boat to get there.