The Ocean Voyager

Original Text: 

Matt Rader. Living Things. Gibsons, British Columbia: Nightwood Editions, 2008.

1Comes the wayward waters of the coast
2Bearing me on its unbroken back, chartless,
3Without compass or sextant, no ghost
4Or unseen hand guiding me by cutlass
5Or caress: I enter Hecate the only captain
6This vessel will ever know—To hell
7With illness-stitched wool, English pain
8Balled in musket shot, delicate otter shells
9Piled like money in the hold, I sold
10The treacherous lot to the sea, the boatmen
11Tagged and taken by whitecaps, lassoed
12To the beach, wrecked and erected as totems
13By panther-eyed armies of salal and skin,
14Omens for the coming centuries painted
15The ever green of cedar and greed. No sin
16Shone from a lantern's idiot eye; no tainted
17Light spewed from the moon, splattering
18In the Pacific mist like insects. Darkness kissed
19The phosphorescent salmon chattering
20At my hull and scrubbed the stains of piss
21And wine and filthy commerce from my deck.
22Emptier than a child's mind, I made
23The scrambled brains of Desolation on-spec
24My thirteenth day where the tidal braid
25Of the strait cradled and rocked me to sleep
26Like your whisky. A pale bag of deer
27Bobbed at my ribs, uncorked from the deep
28Well of the lived. I danced troughs like fear
29On nervous highways, two-stepped crests
30Like early love, and since then I have flown
31Lightning wracked seas in the fissured west,
32Known what men thought they've known.
33The low sun slouching steadily towards Japan
34Dragging white contrails across the screen
35Of the atmosphere, the sea's eyelids frozen
36Shut by shards of stars, the maddened screed
37Of waves like buffalo stampeding to oblivion
38Upon the shore. I have dreamed the curdled
39Hand of ice in harbour, for the nattering wind
40A muzzle, crows hauling dawn across the world.
41To be sure, I've hunted Haida Gwaii like
42A hound, nosed its monkey beach with my keel
43Then turned on the wheel of the ocean, flocks
44Of glaucous in the endless seas above reeling
45With me, southward through the kelp-nets
46And fermenting weeds, the forever drizzle
47Like chains hanging from heaven's basement.
48Orca offal in the tidal flats, the mud's missal
49Of decay and puzzle, a rotting hull of ribcage.
50I note these things along the way, a hoard
51To lord over and over, arrange and rearrange
52Upon the galley-bench of mind searching for
53Order. Glinting teeth of glaciers cut seawards
54Over thousands of years but I will not rudder
55Or tack here and no creature nor any words
56Alive today will be so when these beasts shudder
57And make their move to water. I would
58Show children these oolichan like candles
59Burning beneath the surface, the driftwood
60Castles yet to be imagined on the beach, mantles
61Of foam and salt the drowned will shoulder
62Like boas from a rubber tree. On my gunnels
63Dance shore birds the weight of a lust-whisper
64In the ear. Comes running through runnels
65Of air, the landfall gossip: floating islands
66Like glass fishing globes snatched from the map
67For souvenirs. Water-drunk, sea-canned
68By briny slosh, my staves won't rot or snap
69And release me finally to the silent squelch
70Of the depths, fathoms beneath in the birdless
71Pitch where I would remain like a ship's wench
72On her knees, gladly, to be relieved of the aegis
73Of my own fate, saved from the sobbing breast
74I have suckled too long now with its shadow
75Flowers and jelly-wasps; no old galleon guest
76On this coast nor armoured monitor would know
77To dredge the surface for my prow; riddled
78With lichens of pale sun, barnacle-tumours,
79Azure phlegm, I drift of my own unbridled
80Arrogance never coming up against the rumoured
81Wall of sky reddened by the savage blood
82Of pilgrims beating their heads out of this
83Labyrinth-mine. I've weathered tsunami and flood,
84Maelstroms of fifty twisted leagues, behemoths
85Of wind hammering nights sidereal architecture
86Its scuddering floes of cloud skewered on
87Mountain parapets, the firmament fractured
88And opened to swallow sailors and all gone
89Wanderers save me. Is it in such elemental
90Rapture that you exist, exiled with the golden
91Plover, the lapwing, caught in the career and pull
92Of here to there and never anywhere you happen
93To be, simply, at the moment? I fear the acrid
94Torpor of this love. I desire a black pond
95Of frogspawn, a sad child burdened by limpid
96Eyes folding an origami boat to chart reed fronds,
97Or a mayfly cocooned in paper and set free
98By fingers from the prison-ship of its first form.
99Such forlorn languor as I call home, I do not see
100History's electric Diogenes pass over me in alarm.
RPO poem Editors: 
Jim Johnstone
RPO Edition: 
Special Copyright: 

Poem used with permission of the author.