Zygmunt Frankel

COLLECTED POEMS

The Flying Dutchman

Cargo dumped on the Ararat, and the ship taken
under and past the rainbow.

The heavy keel glides endlessly over the deep;
No barnacles grow on it, and no dry rot sets in;
No hearts cut out of sharks beat on the empty deck,
and no tired seagull settles in the rigging.

Loneliness haunts these seas, and sometimes wind,
never together;
two aspects of a single thing,
taking turns; E=mc2;
The loneliness like matter, seemingly stable, eternal,
exploding suddenly into the fury
of a sea hurricane.
This wind is very old,
and sometimes, in a remembrance of younger and better days,
it screams, and runs amok, and beats the ocean waves
into a salt spray like an old man's tears.

And the dark ship
heels a little, rolls a little,
unwavering on its course through the midst of it all.

Storms sink no phantoms.

PARFOIS, POUR S'AMUSER, LES HOMMES D'EQUIPAGE...
(Baudelaire, The Albatross )

And sometimes, to amuse themselves, the sailors
would catch a shark, first check its stomach, then cut out its heart
and leave it beating on the deck, almost obscene,
too stupid and too primitive to know
that it was dead.

THE OCTOPUS

Tentacled womb, creeping along a rock; listen:
the surf is rolling shells on the beach, making them sing like bells; listen:
the click of the safety catch of my speargun.

It jerks at point-blank range; the slam of heavy tentacles upon the slim steel (shaft;
the rows of suckers, curling; the cloud of ink; and the tug on the line,
as you roll on the sand bottom, still fighting.

Say farewell to the protecting rocks as some force is dragging them away;
Say goodbye to the sea as it grows shallow.

RAILINGS CHILLY LIKE DUSK

Railings chilly like dusk under bare elbows,
and your wind heavy with moisture, sadness, and salt.

How I have loved you, sea, throughout my other loves;
your every moment and every mood and every tune;
the old man shuffling slowly along the empty beach;
a pair of roomless lovers under the pier at night;
fish struggling on a tight line; the smell of cast-out weed;
the skeletons of boats; and all your colours;

Your great grey heart beating against the shore;

And gales, just touching the surface of your eternal peace.

DARK NIGHT

Dark night,
dark boats,
wet wood against a wet horizon,
tentacles of ropes coiling on the decks,
and the moon wriggling through the clouds like an eel.

A skeleton of a wreck rots in shallow water.

Out of the darkness a wave comes,
grows old on sand,
and dies, like an oyster, in silence.

WE COULD HAVE GONE

We could have gone to the mountains or into the desert, but we came to the beach instead;
Little kittens were playing on the sand and ghost crabs scattered at our approach;
Houris offered sweetmeats and you were silent.

We could have gone to the orchards or into the valleys but we came to the beach instead;
Birds on long legs ran along the shore,
And a medusa was dying on the sand.

Dragged out to sea and drowned are all our yesterdays,
And our tomorrows may never get in safely through the surf.

THE HOUSES BY THE SEA

The houses by the sea have already fallen asleep,
and people inside them also, except the dying man.
His landlocked blood has lost its brief red power,
and is reverting to sea water; and his heart
is pulsing slowly like a pale mollusk.

He sees, as he always did, the world in his own likeness;
Tonight it is mortally ill, and he is not sorry to leave it.

CATS

Cats,
and lone men in light grey hats,
and nothing.

And in the darkness the waves go
like next year and like long ago
like nothing.

There is no virtue here, no crime;
to me, tonight, for the first time,
the sea says nothing.

PERHAPS THERE IS A PLACE

Perhaps there is a place where ghost ships go to die;
Long horizon,
low sky,
and a dark sail between them,
its legends spawned, like salmon and silver eels,
fades slowly,
with a lone whale's spout for monument,
to silent tolling of medusas' bells.

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1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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