Haibun Today
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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 4, Number 4, December 2010



M. Kei
Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, USA

 

Shelter from the Storm

Labor Day, 2010. The tall ship Kalmar Nyckel leaves Provincetown. The sky is as blue and the wind as fair as a sailor’s dream. I braid my pigtail to keep the hair out of my face and turn my back on tourists.

1786—
I too would have
sailed into
a bright blue fate,
never thinking hurricane

Our next port of call is Martha’s Vineyard, right in the path of Hurricane Earl, a category four storm. We watch the weather forecast, the changing track, the intensities. We cancel our obligations and take shelter in New Bedford. A forest of scallop boats is already there, booms still, decks unoccupied, their hollow metal hearts empty.

the flags
fluttering
in the southern wind,
the sea breezes
restless in the night

We lower the topyards and lash them to the fighting tops. We furl the sails as tight as we can and lash them with extra gaskets. We make more fenders out of junk rope. We stow all flags except the black telltale. Off watch, I chase Melville and Woodward* up the hill to Seamen’s Bethel. Cobblestones like poems lead me to the weathered clapboard chapel.

how many
drowned souls
come to
the Bethel in vain,
searching for their names?

No cross or crucifix adorns the walls; the old saltbox is as plain a chapel as men can make. You don’t have to believe anything in particular to sit on those hard pews, praying for Divine Providence. Marble cenotaphs hang on the walls. Everywhere I look are memorials to the dead lost at sea. I think to myself, “These are the ones loved enough to be remembered.”

I have no kin
to mourn me in New Bedford,
my cenotaph will never
hang in cold marble
upon these clapboard walls

I am the only living soul in the Bethel, but I am not alone. Melville is sitting over there, and back there, the after image of Woodward. The shades of people I don’t know are all around me, but I recognize them. They are sailors like myself.

death knows
no denomination
the ghosts
of pigtailed sailors
fill the watery pews

 


*See Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chapter 7: The Chapel (1851) and Jeffrey Woodward, “Seamen’s Bethel, New Bedford” in Atlas Poetica 3 (2009).

 

 

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