At Sea in a Storm

At the scarred table in the galley,
A deckhand sits and sleeps,
Crammed into a corner,
As his mug vibrates,
Spilling coffee down his fingers--
Newly black-grained
From tow-lines
And rope.

The tug,
Hauling an oil barge,
Dives into another
West Coast-valley, and
Then soars up,
Up another wall of jade.

He actually sleeps for an hour
In the bawl of diesel-pistons,
Rattling dishes,
And a pot of roast beef that
Clamors in the oil-fired oven.

Suddenly the wheelhouse door
Springs open:

"Asleep?" the skipper yells.
"Get up here and steer this boat,
Ya bloody college student!"

Like a confused snake,
The deckhand's mind reacts,
Slides into a blinding landscape.
His eyes are volcanoes
In a white face.
His stomach fights hard
To throw up.
He steadies himself
As another blast
Throws the tug up and down
As if it were a toy
In angry hands.

He leaps for the outside door,
Dives for the rail, and
Adds his own bile
To the great gall bladder
Of time--
And sweats.

Jade water and rabid foam
Roar past.
Wind yanks at his hair.
Salt-air drives itself
Up his nostrils.
Dizzily he walks
Like a roller coaster-drunk
Through the sea-tombed

The wheelhouse door slams behind him
As the tug leans
Hard to starboard.
The deckhand takes the wheel
From the bloody skipper.
His stomach sucks his strength,
Like a parasite,
Leaving arms and legs shaky,
As he stares wide-eyed
Through wet glass
Into a crashing world
Of madness.

previous t.o.c. next