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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 9, Number 4, December 2015

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M. Kei
Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, USA

Blue Mistress

ship captains
are usually old
and grizzled,
but she is young
and bright like the sea

A big blue ship is my latest mistress. Elaborately carved and painted with an intricate and archaic rig, she is unique in the world. She has been cast in movies and documentaries as everything from a pirate ship to a doomed merchantman. Her rig is so accurate the Vasa Museum wants to study wear marks on her to aid them in interpreting debris from 17th century shipwrecks.

hauling
the tack
the captain
sings a chantey
to keep the rhythm

She is not just unique because of her movie star good looks and historically accurate rig, but because of the people that sail her. Both of her captains are women. This is not a historical anomaly; amid the thousands of ships that sailed the seas were a number of widows who chose to keep their husbands’ ships alive when the men themselves were dead. It should not surprise anyone that a widow would choose work over penury.

the crewwoman,
her foullies mended
with duct tape,
resting against
the windlass

Women have gone to the sea in ships for as long as there have been ships, and that’s why men are sometimes called "son of a gun"—it comes from the cannons of a warship being fired to aid a woman giving birth. She was placed between the guns and the shock was supposed to further her labor. If a boy was eventually born, he was placed on the ship’s muster roll with the rating of ‘baby.’ Some men really were born for the sea.

belowdecks
the pink-haired chick
with librarian glasses
composes a duet
for harp and saxophone

No one has ever told us what became of the girls, but we can hazard a guess. From time to time, when a sailor was stripped of his shirt to be flogged, he was found to be a she.

the cook
with blue hair
and tattoos
bakes homemade cookies
for the hungry crew

Modern people can’t imagine how a woman could hide her sex amid the crowded conditions of a wooden sailing ship, but it doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve changed my clothes plenty of times without exposing myself to my crewmates. Likewise anyone who thinks a woman is not physically capable of doing the work has not seen either of our female captains aloft.

still in her bikini
the captain explains
mechanical advantage
and directs the re-rigging
of the gun tackle

Nor’easter, hurricane, tropical storm, tourists; the ship endures it all. Her captains know her as well as they know their own bodies. In a very real sense, the ship is the captain’s body. When she lists so slightly no one else on the crew notices, the captain notices. It’s her job to notice.

thirty-five knots
straight in the face
fog closing in
and the merciless rain
the everlasting rain

Anyone who has ever seen a wooden ship skirted in foam or gowned in fog knows why ships are always "she." The sea herself is full of mothers, daughters and sisters. It is not for nothing that Aphrodite was born of seafoam, that Amphitrite is Queen of the Sea, that mermaids are the sea’s enduring symbol.

the Elizabeth Islands
all of them
named after women
by sailors longing for
sweethearts and mothers

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