On the whales’ road
They found a Neanderthal skull in the North Sea,
shallow sea that was land. Just a bone left,
shielded once in its skim of skin like the soft lives
running their course above on the whales' road.
He's his own message in a bottle, delivered by sea
as the fire takes messages to the questionable gods.
Like sport, folk-tales and magic the sea
is not decimal. Its measures are feet and inches,
the cubits of Noah's ark or fathoms' armspans
cartwheeling down. And the king waves come in threes.
It has always been bright with gods and dark with gods,
their names piled up in waves.
You ride it like horseback,
forgetting what stillness means and return to land
as the moment after an earthquake.
When poems venture
into it they float out words and the words sink,
so they float out more after the ones missing
or found drifting and abandoned. It takes in
our bodies like news from above.
This is a town of weathered stones. They rim
the park, each inscribed with the end of someone's life:
a master mariner, a drowned man.
The saddest are loud with the deaths of children.
Sea defaces the stones in its slow riot,
and ocean and dry land are just a matter
of degree, as the waves of cloud break
over the mountain. The stones' names come
from Perthshire and Dumfriess, Cork and Leipzig. They're left
like sea fossils stranded on mountains.
Hobart edges the stream of ocean, looks
out to where water hardens into land
and electric echoes skip over it. Down there
earth and sky are married again, reconciled
as they might be on worlds where no tail ever
tripped through ocean, no gill breathed.
Up here where the wind is whining through the rigging,
rust dissolves anchors and hulls, pulls
apart the cracks in things.
Somewhere out there is the idea of a drowned cathedral.
Through holes in the stained glass swim improbable fish.
The light that spirals down is already broken
when it picks out the stingrays circling
like church bats. At the base of the organ
the satyrs are still whole but the trumpeting angels
are noseless on pipe tops.
If there could ever be
a house of god it would be this: perched on the shelf-edge
where he tries to remember what was down there
at the most submerged beginning, how he came
to be here on the edge of things, old man of the sea.