A Ship


Joel Chace








Its language starts to

slide:  whole tale

tips slightly; entire ship’s

deck slightly

slants; passengers become

lovers falling into each

other’s arms; their

sentences slip around,

under, into  —  enter.








Steerage.  Infant wrapped

in arms.  Once abandoned

arms holding a child.  Sick

little one cradled by hands

no longer left

behind.  All that

remains is for this child to

anatomize, become

sparks rising out of

itself, out of the

hands, sight so beautiful,

disappearing into

darkness above those arms.








The only one onboard

as it turned out.  And after

it died  —  poor scrawny

baby  —  really everything got

better for everybody else. 

After all, children, families do

just muck it up.  Almost

impossible, with them around,

to select a new love.








But there’s talk of

an emptiness.  A

hole down through

the top of the

ship.  More like

a Mohole.  More a shaft

without an

elevator, or

walls, ceiling, floor.   

The closer one comes,

the colder.  Not the freeze

of ice, of space.  More

a ghost-bone.








Gods with dusty

feet.  On board, three gods, dust

covering bare feet.  Clothes loose

fitting, thin, faded,

stained.  Their spoken

thoughts hardly

celestial.  Look, how

dark the water.  This

journey might end.  If we

may be so bold.  No

berths for them; none

offered.  So they huddle

close to the emptiness.








She strokes his cheek.  Her

new lover, the warrior.  On

deck, rain in his face, she

holds him.  I had sung the war song, I

had smelt power smoke, my heart

was bad  —  I was like one who has

no mind.  I rushed in and took

their flag; my pony fell dead.  I cut

the thong that bound me.  I was

mad, I got a fresh pony and

rushed back, shooting, cutting

and slashing.  

                            In her berth, in

her bed, she caresses his wet,

bare shoulder.

                                I knew nothing

would hurt me for I had my white

weasel tail on.  One of them

knew me.  I laughed and yelled.  I saw his

mouth move.  He was afraid.  When I got

near enough, I shot him dead.  I got back

on my pony and rode off.  

I was satisfied and sick

of fighting.  

                         Her new

lover, the warrior, and she

journey across the dark water.








Below deck, she enters with

her new warrior lover.  The

other lovers, newly

paired, file into the ballroom,

where the gods  —  all three  —  are

putting on a show.  Hardly

rehearsed.  First god:  history, dead

people, broken things.  Looks

at piano.  Second god:  an

ascent, stone rung, mud rung, marble

rung, to somewhere darker

than even here.  Third god: 

marble rung, stone rung, mud rung, ascent

to a room with a story that

used to be called history.  Three

gods, looking at

piano, together:  regimes,

catastrophes, stories, words, and

we, dead except for

what we speak.  The end.








Another port.  As usual,

only the gods go ashore.  All

other passengers stand

at rails as lights in the

city begin to blink on, skyline

scattering, softening to

lilac.  Those three immortals weave

along the main street, turn

to wave back at fellow

voyagers, and never

disappear from sight for long. 

Darkness hovers.  The three, laughing,

point out those most strangely garbed, new

wares on the curbs, arabesques of

lights.  Quiet, at their railings,

new lovers look on in wonder.








Standing on dark water, rambling

slats of fog float toward

one another until the ship

loses itself to itself.  Voices

in air:  exquisite, summarily,

release, invoke.  The lovers, hair

wetted, lose themselves to themselves.








At times, they remember their

uneasiness on the launch.  They

leaned away from touching, looking

only straight ahead, out over

a jade sea and —  coming closer and

larger  —  at that ship where each

chose, as lover, the other.








They see nothing of the

captain.  Occasionally,

an order comes down, surprising

and delightful.  Today, you are

a nudist colony.  You will

switch bed partners for tonight.  They

see no crew, yet berths remain

spotless, sumptuous meals plated

and placed.  They’ll guess aloud about

what guides them through fogs, through

nights.  Even the three

divinities wonder.  One says, Doubt,

too, can become a form.  








Bedmates coupling or

dreaming, hearing thunder

of horses overhead.  Who

are those stretched low along

straining ponies’ necks?  Those

who lightly hold soft,

leather reins?  Below that tumult,

she strokes her partner’s thigh, cups

a breast of her warrior

lover.  I saw my father

preparing to go to

the battle. I sang a death

song for my young brother, who had

been killed. I ran to a nearby

thicket and got my black horse. I

painted my face with crimson and

braided my black hair. I was

mourning. I was a

woman, but I was not

afraid.  Who are those who look

intently out over the

onyx sea encircling

them as they

circle the ship’s deck? 








The celestials stumble

upon a room of maps and

charts.  Curious, as ever, they

can’t help but enter.  One

pulls a volume from its shelf,

holds it upright, opens it

randomly, and they watch

language slide down, off the

pages.  A thin-lined grid, crazy

land shapes, pale green sea remain.  But

words, letters fall like soot upon

and around six bare feet.  Back

on deck, the three agree to

keep all this to themselves.








They claim that whirling’s

their nature, that they’re

doing it right now, there in

the ship’s ballroom.  Why

aren’t we seeing you spin? someone

says.  You look with eyes only.  You see

threadbare motley, and six

dusty, bare feet.  You don’t

perceive our hunger.  You

can’t discern our egos’

headstones and cerements  —  our

conic hats, our white robes with

skirts that lift as we turn, left

feet propelling us around

right; skirts risen, cusped

like waves, like those that even

now slice lightless water

beneath us, waves spinning foam off

themselves into the raven sea. 








Late, late, in

dream, a voice.  O,

to be undone seeing

the moon’s beam run

its line along

blackness.  O, to be

drawn beneath one

of those watery

furrows.  To be borne

upon a wing plummeting

into a night that’s

the opposite of

night, where down is

the antipodean

of down, toward

an obsidian sun

that will confound and make

immune any tongue.









Joel Chace has published work in print and electronic magazines such as Tip of the Knife, E·ratio, Otoliths, Word For/Word, Golden Handcuffs Review and The Brooklyn Rail.  Most recent collections include Humors, from Paloma Press, Threnodies, from Moria Books, and fata morgana, from Unlikely Books.  Maths is forthcoming from Chax Press. 



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