Close-Hauled

by Brenda Levy Tate
PenShells
First Place, June 2016
Judged by Joan Colby


” … heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them.”
~ Herman Melville

I cross these tides to you – my beautiful
hearse that carries the corpse of desire
on your spine. We plow this sea together,
as the wake’s ribbon trails behind us.
Your harpoon-rope uncoils like a vine.

Below in the secret green, another tale
begins – not yours, nor mine either,
but the wild carol of a sleepless god
in his kelp nest, now risen to ask who
dares break faith with him.

I cannot separate myself from your pale
back, your bone burden. I ride you
groaning through the wet darkness.
Whatever lies we gave each other
in our youth, the salt has eaten them.

There is only a crazy boatman now,
sworn to own us both – captain of souls
who carries no one without consent.
Refuse him, love. Dive deep and take
me under too. Accept no sunless

river or frail death-vessel. We will claim
the whole ocean, circle this waterborn ball
a hundred thousand years.


This poem utilizes a haunting and effective metaphor that energizes the poem seamlessly to an evocative conclusion. Lines like “the wild carol of a sleeping god/in his kelp nest” are both visual and pertinent. --Joan Colby

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