Marathon to the Mississippi
Four dolphins ahead disappear and reappear under the keeling bowsprit,
swimming in sync with the boat, looking up. My hat I wave in broad circle-eights as we skim together.
They curve off on either side in deep blue.
Marathon lies amid a vast arc of low coral islands
stretching southwest from the end of the Florida peninsula
two hundred miles, eight hundred mangrove isles crested
by hardwood hammocks — buried-treasure forests on uplands
above the mangroves: ironwood, gumbo limbo, pond apple;
ibis pools surrounded by blue main.
Listen for passing northern notes in the trees, however.
Most of the migrating birds from the north and east travel
through the Keys and are dependent upon the hammocks
for fuel and water to make the crossing to South or Central
America, or the West Indies.
The World as Meditation
Is it Ulysses that approaches from the east,
The interminable adventurer? The trees are mended,
that winter is washed away. Someone is moving
On the horizon and lifting himself up above it.
A form of fire approaches the cretonnes of Penelope,
Whose mere savage presence awakens the world in which she dwells.
She has composed so long, a self with which to welcome him.
Companion to his self for her, which she imagined,
Two in a deep-founded sheltering, friend and dear friend.
The trees had been mended, as an essential exercise
In an inhuman meditation, larger than her own.
No winds like dogs watched over her at night.
She wanted nothing he could not bring her by coming alone.
She wanted no fetchings. His arms would be her necklace
And her belt, the final fortune of their desire.
But was it Ulysses? Or was it only the warmth of the sun
On her pillow? The thought kept beating in her like her heart.
The two kept beating together. It was only day.
It was Ulysses and it was not. Yet they had met,
Friend and dear friend and a planet's encouragement.
The barbarous strength within her would never fail.
She would talk a little to herself as she combed her hair,
Repeating his name with its patient syllable,
Never forgetting him that kept coming constantly so near.
Once a leatherback leaves the beach where it's hatched,
its habitat is ocean. Found over deep waters between the
polar seas, its eating fields are the zones that gather the
gelatinous animals they consume.
They grow fast, a ten-thousand fold increase in weight
over less than a decade, and can dive almost a mile deep.
They need a leathery carapace to endure the pressures
Mating near nesting beaches, multiple times females
lumber ashore and flail seventy eggs into excavated nests.
More females come from warmer sands; cooler sands, more
The hatchlings flipper for the sea.
Consciousness, riding on a molecular back, generates a physical reality and events suited to it.
Prologues to What is Possible
There was an ease of mind that was like being alone in a boat at sea,
A boat carried forward by waves resembling the bright backs of rowers,
Gripping their oars, as if they were sure of the way to their destination,
Bending over and pulling themselves erect on the wooden handles,
Wet with water and sparkling in the one-ness of their motion.
The boat was built of stones that had lost their weight and being no longer heavy
Had left in them only a brilliance, of unaccustomed origin,
So that he that stood up in the boat leaning and looking before him
Did not pass like someone voyaging out of and beyond the familiar.
He belonged to the far-foreign departure of his vessel and was part of it,
Part of the speculum of fire on its prow, its symbol, whatever it was,
Part of the glass-like sides on which it glided over the salt-stained water.
~ Wallace Stevens
I endureth the sea. But do I enjoy the sea?
No. On the high seas, at least in a small craft,
I have to shut down my major systems to prevail:
eat little, move little. I have spent my modern life
doing more than this. And however deeply I con-
template the waves, the passing birds or occasional
turtles — even flying fish — there is a foreign line a full
360 degrees around me of inaction.
The last morning dawns of the interminable voyage —
sun a yellow globe over the sea, tanker going by,
oil rig ahead; my feet set to stand and walk away
I am tired of sitting, even on the surge, though
it be the bed of creation. Sixty-six miles to navigate,
then a release to my habitat: bon voyage to the ocean
in a boat.
The boat is a thirty-five foot Caliper, made in 1994,
set on autopilot now at 331 degrees, 56.1 nautical miles
from Grand Isle, Louisiana, slapping the omnipotent
Adrian has gone below to sleep, having navigated the
later night while I slept. He tells me to be watchful for
old oil derricks, some no more than a pipe sticking out
of the sea.
Where is all the oil from last summer? Last evening
we threw crackers and hot dog to an adroit sea bird
that picked the morsels off the oceanic microlayer's
~ Stan Renfro
The Man and the Sea
"Ships!" exclaimed an elderly seaman in clean shore togs,
and his clean glance, turning away from my face, ran along a vista
of magnificent figure-heads that in the late seventies used to overhang
in a serried rank the muddy pavement by the side of the New South Dock
— 'ships are all right; it's the men in 'em...'
Fifty hulls at least, moulded on lines of beauty and speed — hulls
of wood, of iron, expressing in their forms the highest achievement of
modern shipbuilding — lay moored all in a row, stem to quay, as if
assembled there for an exhibition, not of a great industry, but of a great
art. Their colors were gray, black, dark green with a narrow strip of yellow
moulding defining their sheer, or with a row of painted ports decking in
warlike decoration their robust flanks of cargo-carriers that would know
no triumph but of speed in conveying a burden, no glory other than of
a long service, no victory but that of an endless, obscure contest with
And for a good quarter of a mile, from the dockyard gate to the farthest
corner, where the old housed-in hulk the President (drill ship, then, of the
Naval Reserve) used to lie with her frigate side rubbing against the stone
of the quay, above all these hulls, ready and unready, a hundred and fifty
lofty masts, more or less, held out the web of their rigging like an immense
net, in whose close mesh, black against the sky, the heavy yards seemed
to be entangled and suspended.
It was a sight. The humblest craft that floats makes its appeal to a
seaman by the faithfulness of her life; and this was the place where one
beheld the aristocracy of ships. It was a noble gathering of the fairest and
the swiftest, each bearing at the bow the carved emblem of her name, as in
a gallery of plaster casts, figures of women with mural crowns, women in
flowing robes, with gold fillets on their hair or blue scarves round their waists,
stretching out rounded arms as if to point the way; heads of men helmeted
or bare; full lengths of warriors, of kings, of statesmen, of lords and princesses,
all white from top to toe; with here and there a dusky turbaned figure,
bedizened in many colors, of some Eastern sultan or hero, all inclined forward
under the slant of mighty bowsprits as if eager to begin another run of eleven
thousand miles in their leaning attitudes.
These were the fine figureheads of the finest ships afloat. But why, unless
for the love of the life those effigies shared with us in their wandering impassivity,
should one try to reproduce in words an impression of whose fidelity there can
be no critic and no judge, since such an exhibition of the art of shipbuilding
and the art of figurehead carving as was seen from year's end to year's end
in the open-air gallery of the New South Dock no man's eye shall behold again?
All that patient, pale company of queens and princesses, of kings and
warriors, of allegorical women, of heroines and statesmen and heathen gods,
crowned, helmeted, bareheaden, has run for good off the sea, stretching to the
last above the tumbling foam their fair, rounded arms; holding out their spears,
swords, shields, tridents in the same unwearied, striving forward pose.
And nothing remains but, lingering perhaps in the memory of a few men,
the sound of their names, vanished a long time ago from the first page of the
great London dailies; from big posters in railway-stations and the doors of
shipping offices; from the minds of sailors, dockmasters, pilots, and tugmen;
from the hail of gruff voices and the flutter of signal flags exchanged between
ships closing upon each other and drawing apart in the open immensity of
Sir Patrick Spens
The king sits in Dumfirling town
Drinking the blood-red wine.
O where will I get a good sailor
To sail this ship of mine?
Up and spake an eldern knight
Sat at the king's right knee.
Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor
That sails upon the sea.
The king has writ a braid letter
And signed it with his hand,
And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens
Was walking on the sand.
The first line that Sir Patrick read,
A loud laugh laughed he;
The next line that Sir Patrick read,
The tear blinded his eye.
O who is this has done this deed,
This ill deed done to me,
To send me out this time o' the year
To sail upon the sea?
Make haste, make haste, my merry men all,
Our good ship sails the morn.
O say not so my master dear,
For I fear a deadly storm.
Late late yestreen I saw the new moon
With the auld moon in her arm,
And I fear, I fear, my dear master,
That we shall come to harm.
O long, long may their ladies stand
with their gold combs in their hair
Or ere they see their own dear lords
For they'll see them no more.
O lang, lang may their ladies sit
With their fans into their hand
Or ere they see Sir Patrick Spens
Come sailing to the land.
Half owre, half owre to Aberdour
It's fiftie fadom deep:
And there lies good Sir Patrick Spens
Wi' the Scots lords at his feet.
Two Palms of Hart Crane
O rivers mingling toward the sky
And harbor of the phoenix' breast —
My eye pressed black against the prow,
— Thy derelict and blinded guest
Waiting, afire, what name, unspoke,
I cannot claim: let thy waves rear
More savage than the death of kings,
Some splintered garland for the seer.
And onward, as bells off San Salvador
Salute the crocus lusters of the stars,
In these poinsettia meadows of her tides, --
Adagios of islands, O my Prodigal,
Complete the dark confessions her veins spell.
Bind us in time, O seasons clear, and awe,
O minstrel galleons of Carib fire,
Bequeath us to no earthly shore until
Is answered in the vortex of our grave
The seal's wide spindrift gaze toward paradise.
Over DeSoto's bones the freighted floors
Throb past the City storied of three thrones,
Down two more turns the Mississippi pours
(Anon tall ironsides up from salt lagoons)
And flows within itself, heaps itself free,
All fades but one thin skyling round... Ahead
No embrace opens but the stinging sea;
The river lifts itself from its long bed,
Poised wholly on its dream, a mustard glow
Tortured with history, its one will — flow!
— The Passion spreads in wide tongues, choked and slow,
Meeting the Gulf, hosannas silently below.
— (Hart Crane)
We enter a continent, land at New Orleans, April 27, 2011.
~ Stan Renfro