You've read tales of heroic sailors overcoming all odds. This is the flip side.
I went to walk by the water,
and to gaze out over the sea.
Fate followed close as I sauntered;
it’s a seafaring life for me!
I joined the press gang a lubber,
a berth neither chosen nor sought.
Staggered on legs made of rubber
as the lash, my lessons it taught.
The Bosun brooks no idle question.
The Captain ranks higher than God.
And flogging makes an impression
when arguing maritime law.
Our grog tastes fresh from the scuppers;
the hardtack is leavened with mold.
Salt pork and hard peas serve as supper
and it’s all shared with rats in the hold.
The sailor who’s tossed on the surface
knows little what lurks in the deep;
rolled up in a hammock so nervous,
in a storm too strident for sleep.
The wind cuts keen as a razor,
salt spray dripping into my sores.
The cold seeps in and it stays there
with no place aboard to get warm.
The masts are capering madmen
with yardarms that point to my dread.
Rigging’s a riddle to landsmen,
a maze that entangles my head.
The swell keeps me hugging the rail
til we’re whistled up into the tops;
where my struggle with ice stiffened sail
resolves with a sickening drop.
There’s no rest from unending motion
in a pitching and wallowing ship;
til the foam that floats on the ocean
bubbles up from a drowned sailor's lips.
Terrence G. Fisher 2019
Author's Note ▼