(this in response to Alina’s exercise)
Peter Matthiessen and Derek Walcott are crewing the red boat with green sail (not after all the pea green boat of Edward Lear I’d thought to hop on board, but sea green, Persian green, Spanish veridian — the green closest to ecstacy); and a game Westie terrier named Bodhisattva lies with chin on paws in the small pointed bow, seeming to grin from ear to ear. I’ve stowed away among the ropes and spinnakers and storm jibs, and eavesdrop on the easy talk with perfect gratitude.
Looking up at breathy cloth and cloud and wind, I lie quite without motion of my own. Without motion or voice, or need to speak, letting the others vocalize what’s what, in lilting, textured dialect, the speaking of the turtle men and women of the Homeric West Indies of islands just out of sight from where we sail, yet never beyond reach (always within a hop skip and a jump of making landfall). I drink in every syllable, like water from a dented tin cup with the aftertaste of Golden Monkey black tea, salt spray, rum.
They’re trying lines, playing them out as fishermen are said to —
And de boats grob de turtle den, take dem over to Limón.
. . . the hunched island called “Iounalao,” where the iguana is found . . .
Keeping some air around the words, as I have heard the taller of the sailors say elsewhere of his sanded-down prose.
I think how Zen it is, as he’d instruct, to formulate nothing—lying there doggo among coils of sea-soaked rope letting objects and actions tell me of themselves. How satisfying to have life pared down to this, the elemental. Right down to the bone.
I came with honey and plenty of money wrapped in a five pound note, having intended like the owl and the pussycat to sail away for a year and a day and eat quince with a runcible spoon. But in the end I’ve lost my easy rhymes and paid nothing, beyond my willingness to drift. I’ve stolen in and hidden in the cargo hold, among the knots and folds; stolen a few crackers and too-ripe cheese with rind tasting of the Basque Pyrenees, smelling of cow or goat, and tinned pâté with its label come half unglued.
In soft faded old clothes — in dungarees which I have stolen too and shirts with rolled-up sleeves, striped Breton fishing shirts — barefoot the whole day through, we’re making a bumblebeeline for the horizon, greeny orangey pinky blue, and tipsy as a child would color in with an unrulered hand. We’re dancing on the rhythms of Omeros Far Tortuga reggae and I beat time with my dogeared paperback copy of Tiepolo’s Hound. We’re making poetry and learning to let go, in going, and sometime when we least expect it we might even come across wisdom itself. Or let it, also, go. We navigate by sun and stars and copper spyglass like the mariners of old, though headed nowhere in particular; aware only of being — bobbing — on the cloud-capped sea.
Am I rudder or sail? I’ve asked myself. But now I only am, one with the boat in its unhesitant entirety. Vast and minute. That green I’ll never be without again.
The burnished wood cabin is full of books and notebooks, ancient globes, a pear-shaped Tanbur carved out of a single piece of Indian mulberry. “I read, I travel, I become,” the Saint Lucian says as he has said before, and like a charm, we do.
And I remember that the owl serenades the pussycat when night comes on, while gazing at the moon and strumming on a small guitar.
After the Dipper has filled full and poured its inky drink of stars it’s light again and we are light and there are suddenly green turtles, paddling around the boat as we come into the third day. Bodhisattva surges to his brave small legs and wags and wags, welcoming fellow creatures fins or no. He is the finest of our number in his way.
We go, reading the tea leaves and the birds.
Where we are headed can’t be named. But we’re bound to — and for — the past the earth’s full circle will return us to, all the places we’ve known and been — the dark river the eastern lights the royal barge with oars lifted in flight the ships with ancient cargos of spices and silks and painted porcelain the heartfelt colors of the island of the woman saint where donkeys and chickens run free — while yet fixing an eye on hope, true north, and all those other cockeyed things like human decency, kinship, comradery — epic virtues. The sturdy homespun stuff of mariners and sages, madmen and magicians, irrepressible rhymesters with twinkles in their eye, and that tintinnabulation of lost languages teasing the inner ear.
I cannot bear to think of journey’s end. After the colors and the onomatopoeia, jibs and jigs, will come that stark silence. The ship under bare poles. Everything bleached and beached, with piers rotting, a nameless schooner in perpetual drydock, the washed up Argo emptied of its stories, its prophetic charm.
For now there is no need to contemplate coming to land. For now, stealing one more time from that other traveler and traveler in words, I tell myself to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive — especially when the travel’s with a band of songsmiths in a little red boat with a heartbreaking green sail.