Monday, February 15, 2021

Requiem for an Aging Sea

I swept the tidal mass unto the shore

since beginnings of the earth: land and sea;

since sun and moon began, and first-born tree

was rooted in the soil of rich brown lore.

There was no stolid unforgiveness here,

there’s no hand of navy retribution

where we must force bloody revolution

of scarlet martyred front, the woman’s tier.

The ocean was your first love, when men left

for the sea: sailors with no worldly cares

except vast liquid horizon, dulcet

moon dipping the waters, and sunlight deft

brimming over the wooden orange barrel;

and the mast with its tall stalwart concept.


If the sea would cry out in white anguish,

the waves would crash in tide upon the rock,

cragging paths of the shore without prism smocked

solace, the water would be a British

maid, upon a beauteous isle off the coast,  

lapping the sand of minute grey and brown,

standing there in her apron, her mouth frowned; 

she looked out to sea, awaiting the lost

ship, willing it to return from the storm.

It would be a mother wound, the poison

of a war that was their debt, and the loss

of so many lives. She was fragile form—

waiting there and never moved, her crimson

mouth still singing his song, stone-cold with moss.


The lithe seabirds fly and she stands there still,

her hands with long fingers to play the harp,

the fishermen with nets would harvest carp,

while she would strum trees on the cliffs with ill

winds that would whip and blow the rocky shore,

the women’s skirts would dance in coloured dress

refining tastes of men put to the test—

to love women like the sea, banish whores

from London streets, and taking daughters by

the hand to revel in the marriage 

of sea and land. These are of old, ancient

as sailor’s navigation had star-ties.

The bride and groom got into their carriage,

circling planets, ivory innocent.


The dark waves and depths were darker than land,

the moon was elegantly fair of face,

the stars stretched out their whitened Kenmare lace,

the green of Ireland waved its gloved hand.

The daffodil of Wales bowed iron head,

and England stood, a cathedral of stone,

with panes of stained glass through which the light shone

with anointing, this wine-like honeyed mead—

and touch of grace with healing in its wings.

The Great Black-backed Gulls flew up, and soared high

above the brine, the cool dank filmy air—

they lived scavenging, but their wise call rings

with a life of salt unmarked by the dye

of indigo-scarred sea, old and austere. 


What was this tree of time that grew on land—

each bark-wrought branch a son with brave courage—

to seek the light, and try to lessen scourge,

integrity to their last breath; and hands

that fashioned carpentry with saws and nail.

The art of wood was resurrected mast,

and homes of quality were handsome cast,

with furniture whose legend does not fail.

Their wives were cared for when they stayed on land,

but men had dreams that made their sea-eyes wild,

they dreamt of naval ports, of setting sail—

the Riviera beckoned the Captain:

foreign harbours, oriental silk mild,

sailing the coast when the wind would not fail.


Africa called to men in their sleep, dreams

made them listless and seeking adventure,

they left for their oceanic nurture,

of the power that moves men from the cream

of life, a wooden house with garden flow’rs—

for the life of violence and war’s red fruit, 

for the hard clasp of the guns, swords, and brutes.

Their ships would sail from emerald towers:

the waves oft the shore, the depths, the silver

fish, the harvest of the sea—liniment,

a sun-streaked weary sky would set each night,

oils of eucalyptus and lavender

were balm of kindness, green eyes, imminent

to regain their blue-streaked morning-tide light.


The sea has aged with the drawing of time;

it grows restless now and creation broods

far under the water, whales die in moods,

and struggle to reach the surface of crimes

against them and their habitat. Their breath

cries out into the open—we cry save

the whales, while English boats upon the wave

of the modern world laugh. The kelp tide’s death

crackles with green iridescence and salt,

once-food does not nourish us anymore,

we hunger for the minerals of sea—

but she is lost, dark-winged like the night’s cult

as our dry bones hit the ocean’s sand floor—

we scorn their value to humanity.  

—Emily Isaacson

Photo used by permission: Armstreet Clothing Company