The candle on my table sheds an idle light.
Outside, a fog like ghosts in flowing linen is drifting
onto shore, a crew of lonely sailors drowned at sea—
beside my door, a phallic wind chime jangling peacefully
to turn aside the bitter ones.
The ocean’s mirror shattered to countless glittering slivers,
and the boat took flight in a sudden surge, the arching wing
of fabric billowing out in a gust.
He skimmed the tide’s silvery surface,
put behind him snow-white houses, indigo domes,
a thin black line of land.
“Could anyone resist?” he asked, the splendor
of a god upon him. “How could you or I
but come aboard, weigh anchor, and set sail?”
I weigh my days on a scale of work and sleep.
I’m watching for the boy, his forehead nicked
by a forelock curling wet. I’m waiting for his heel
to spur the dolphin on, riding the crests of waves.
My lot is laid out here in simple rooms
and an olive grove. Grilled fish, a lamp,
a quiet seclusion suffice. The bread I break,
the wine I drink, but I am not my best alone.
This sacred grove, an old oasis outside time, bordered
by the blinding sands of time, cradled
in a restless sea, a changing breeze —this still vortex
of tree trunks, branches, gleaming leaves—
excludes vicissitudes, omits observance
of the rise and fall of storms, for life, as such, does not exist
within this modest kingdom’s realm, an island
in the center of the sea, and at the center of the island
blinks the azure, circumspect eye of a clear pool.
It reflects each gaze, all seeing, thus, is seen as all.
The olive trees are leaning toward the olives reaching up
from far below.
And with such magic at the heart of things,
I could not help but see there in the pool
the swell stirred by the wind’s fir oar,
the flickering thunderhead, the snapped craft,
the boy flung laughing into the ocean. Oh, what a vision!
A boy thrown laughing into wind-whipped waves.
The fingertip of a light breeze touched the first flower
on a branch’s tip to note the importance
of the pool, the voluptuous prophecy
its quivering waters revealed.
“The sea removed my chiton, embraced me
in the muscular arms of waves.”
I recognized the voice, the boy’s.
“I tried to swim, but knew to yield and float.
An eddy sucked me down where I would die and rise again.
I must have died, I tell you, must have died.
At first, with eyes wide open, I saw nothing, black,
as if, eyes closed, I looked inside myself,
and then as if I gazed from the shady bottom of a pool,
a shimmering pool, where you and trees were looking down.”
His mood changed like a shifting wind on waves.
“The little snowflake of a flower floating there
above the pool three days from now
will bear its oval pearl of fruit,
the olive’s green and opulent raindrop.”
A fresh breeze breathed on the water’s face—
the young man’s suntanned face superimposed on mine
just moments more, then faded out
like a Siren’s song in the silence
of the orchard’s summer calm.
I knew the sea, though it had drowned him, saved him,
shipwrecked, washed ashore. He’d cast his net
for bass and glistening anchovies, slept marooned
on a coral island, lulled by the sea— the pulsing lullaby
of the sea’s incessant surf. He loved the sea
with the abandoned love of a passionate sailor,
surrendering himself, like a gasping fish on a hook,
to Poseidon’s insistent, saline caresses.
Oh, to be the brave seaman venturing forth
on the spin and drift, to look beneath the flashing ripples,
to dive into, to sound its phosphorescent chambers
—hands of secret sailors beckoning deep—
to dare to be acquainted with the sea, in union
with it, life— a carved scarab hung on a leather cord
on his shiny water-beaded chest, the black tattoo
of a conch shell drawn on the small of his back,
liquid prisms glittering in his hair.
Oh, catch a fleeting glimpse of the Triton, trident raised,
on the dolphin’s back, slick flukes flared
as they leap a wave.
I watched him bathing in the pool, rinsing the crusty brine
from his sun-bleached hair, and I saw
how happy he was there alone, just nude,
pristine, himself, a handsome, wiry god
at home in the natural world.
Just as a winding branch slides through air
like a snake to fill the twilight sky with olives and flowers,
the sparkling spring of beauty bubbling up in him
had filled my cup with its amorous magic potion, poisoning me,
then raising me with its marvelous antidote.
I gave him a tunic, offered him the house
as long as he chose to share the chores
and sunny solitude. At dark,
we broke bread and drank wine.
I blew out the candle, stoked the hearth,
and turned down the blanket. Then
we slipped in and slept.
The fire burned down to embers in my mind.
Then the embers faded one by one
to a mystic world of dreams,
especially one of him grown old. That’s how he looked,
so young, yet old beside me while I slept,
ruffling the starry emptiness of night
with a restful turn or cozy sigh. I woke.
“Who’s Doris?” I asked, reaching my pipe and herb.
He answered, “Was I talking in my sleep?”
I nodded yes, then lit the pipe and puffed.
“Mother, sea nymph Doris, wife of Nereus,”
he said, a small vein pulsing on his moonlit brow.
“I’m really Nerites, a stranded ocean deity
with barnacles on my back.” He chuckled, “Kidding.”
“Well,” I said, “for all I know, you could be.”
“Well,” he smiled, “whoever I am, may I have a hit?”
When I gave him one, he drew the warm elixir deep
into his lungs, held it, and exhaled. Then he stared
into the gloom as in a strange, compelling trance.
“Who could I be?” he asked himself.
After a moment, he turned to me
as if some wave of reverie had ebbed. Home, I thought,
from wherever his thoughts had wandered.
“The sea’s a test,” he said, “a self-assessment.
It gives you private knowledge, poise.
If you’re good with a rope and sail,”
he grinned, “you can ride it like a horse.”
He paused— the tranquil ocean of night, the silent depths
of ships and crews holding us down,
like an undertow, under its spell.
“I once believed in serpents great as any longing
I might have,” he said, “but soon the sunlight burned
my fears away. I put to sea to find myself, to plot a course
and stay the course to foreign ports, incredible pleasure, me.
I saw the world and know it ends when I do, catching sight
of the edge and nothing beyond the edge
as well as life felt most intense when near the edge,
the rim that cascades, like a waterfall, to nothing.”
He told me how his sloop had broken up, equipment
and provisions lost, the mast pulled loose and splintered—
him reeled into a roaring whirlpool, spinning
out of sight and sound, and three days later
clinging to some planking— here.
“We need to sleep,” I whispered, setting the pipe aside.
I was dozing off as quickly
as the bleak fog drifting in
from the reef offshore, the nightly visitation
of the drowned. And then I dreamed
I hung a lantern outside by the door.
A purple poppy nodded in the light,
and the wind chime clanked serenely.
Then black turned blue, then soft pastels,
the white approach of day.
At noon, beside each other, gazing at our silhouettes
in the polished mirror of the pool, we faced each other
for our first affectionate kiss—
the sun, a nimbus, bright behind our heads.
As a lyre hums, strummed to a chord by a passing breeze,
I responded, unafraid. The first note trembled.
Then I heard the music of my seven silver strings.
Ken Anderson was a finalist in the recent Saints and Sinners poetry contest. His novel Sea Change: An Example of the Pleasure Principle was a finalist for the 2012 Ferro-Grumley Award and an Independent Publisher Editor’s Choice. His novel Someone Bought the House on the Island was a finalist in the Independent Publisher Book Awards. A stage adaptation won the Saints and Sinners Playwriting Contest and premiered May 2, 2008, at the Marigny Theater in New Orleans.