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Monday, September 28, 2009

Normandie


Normandie

He sleeps now, much of the day, less at night,
conserving life, its slight thread thinning out.
His head slumps back in the big plush chair, and
eyes that hurt him close in shallow rest.

The children want to watch TV. I must
distract them, blunt their cheerful noise somehow.
A book is near my hand, filled with sumptuous
paintings of old ships. I open to the page

depicting bronze prows built by war-
minded Rome, and clever upwind sailing
of Spanish merchants, or the knife-sharp lines
of swift tea and opium clippers, the murdering

squat shapes, end-on, of the cold grey battlewagon
fleets of the Great War. Speaking quietly
of these things, I gently open out
the folded center, the book's masterpiece:

a cutaway view, in rich red and black,
of a classic long-hulled liner. I remember
having read this was an unlucky boat,
yet knowing nothing of the particulars, only

indicate, admiringly, its intricate
design. The big chair stirs; the clouded eyes
swing briefly into focus. A voice comes clear:
"I was on that boat the day she sank."

We gape at him. "Yes, I fought ship fires
in New York that year, in a suit, white asbestos,
spaceman-like. The ship, they said, was hit
by saboteurs. We tried to save her, but

she settled sullen in Harbor mud, and was
broken up for scrap." We wait for more,
but he lolls his head again, and the blood-blown
lobe of his brain strikes sleep. I rearrange

fireplace logs to keep the old man warm,
wondering what else I do not know about
this loved and fading flesh that gave us life.

1992

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