The Sailor at the Edge of the World.
In 1965, members of the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory identified the four corners of the earth as being in Ireland; south-east of the Cape of Good Hope; west of the Peruvian coast; and between New Guinea and Japan.
A ship run aground at the end of the terrace,
contains him, as the tide retreats across the fields,
he who has sailed these coasts,
who hauled in the catch with frost-biten rope,
trawled the tidal rivers for groundfish
and, when necessary, the drowned,
who smuggled during the emergency
between the GIs and the natives
cigarettes and eggs and comic books,
who knows the name of hidden assassin rocks
and currents fixated on treason,
the Dutchman, the Stack,
who possesses knowledge
that will evaporate with him,
who petitioned prayers in Gaelige to the Holy Ghost
in storms so violent the crew wept,
none of them having ever saw fit
to learn how to swim,
reckoning if you went into the water
it was already too late.
The weather used to perpetuate
from this place, storms would formulate in binary
above my grandfather’s house and radiate outwards,
great cumulonimbus towers,
‘black ships that ate the sky’,
commanded by a voice
that was a foghorn on a silent bay,
sending the barometers and compasses
spinning for miles around.
He knows of coastal towns built
from the proceeds of Nazi U-Boat gold
and sunken Spanish galleons,
he knows where the flat Earth tilts,
He cares not for the highlands of Dogger Bank
with it’s dinosaur bones,
Portland and it’s rusted battleships,
the crooked bay of Cromarty,
the wild vortex of Biscay,
the buried crusaders and pirates of Lundy,
the disputed desolate Rockall
or the melancholy of Fastnet,
he made his stand at Malin Head,
in the direct firing line of the storms
launched on Europe.
Here is where the ship-wreaking
breakers roll in,
here is where the trees warp
away from the sea like crones,
here the sea boils in blinding cold,
here at what was once
the edge of the world
is just another nowhere.
He has other stories,
of the checkered tiles on the hospital corridor
becoming black holes when he learned
of his young wife’s cancer, too far gone,
trying to walk, crawling along the walls.
Or of the burglar who came creaking up the stairs
where he waited, shillelagh in hand,
now proudly mounted on the wall,
and his cryptic payoff, when he was finished,
‘He didn’t tell me no stories.’
Age undoes us all, at least
the lucky ones who make it far enough.
A barometer cracked between Fair and Stormy.
A lighthouse automated and forgotten.
A ship landlocked.