The Night Ship

Timothy Donnelly

 
Roll back the stone from the sepulchre's mouth!
I sense disturbance deep within, as if some sorcery
had shocked the occupant's hand alive again, back
to compose a document in calligraphy so dragonish
that a single misstep made it necessary to stop
right then and there and tear the botched draft up,
begin again and stop, tear up again and scatter
a squall of paper lozenges atop the architecture
that the mind designs around it, assembling a city
somewhat resembling the seaport of your birth,
that blinking arrangement of towers and signage
you now wander underneath, drawn forward by the spell
of the sea's one scent, by the bell of the night ship
that cleaves through the mist on its path to the pier.
Surrender to that vision and the labor apprehensible
as you take to the streets from the refuge of a chair
so emphatically comfortable even Lazarus himself
would have chosen to remain unrisen from its velvet,
baffling the messiah, His many onlookers muttering
awkwardly to themselves, downcast till a sudden
dust devil spirals in from the dunes—a perfect excuse
to duck back indoors. (The sand spangles their eyes,
the little airborne stones impinge upon such faces
as only Sorrow's pencil would ever dare to sketch,
and even then, it wouldn't be a cakewalk, you realize.
A dust devil at sea would be called a waterspout.)
You fear that you have been demanded into being
only to be dropped on the wintry streets of this
imagination rashly, left easy prey for the dockside
phantoms, unwatched and unawaited, and I know
what you mean, almost exactly. This cardboard city
collapses around us; another beautiful document
disassembles into anguish—a cymbal-clap—and we can't
prevent it. At one the wind rises, and the night ship
trembles, drowsing back into its silver cloud. At two it embarks
upon a fiercer derangement. We are in this together.
And we will find protection only on the night ship.
 
Copyright © Timothy Donnelly. First published in Columbia: A Journal of Literature & Art, Spring 2004, No. 39. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Poems by This Author

By Night with Torch and Spear by Timothy Donnelly
That fire at the mouth of the flare stack rising
Poem Interrupted by Whitesnake by Timothy Donnelly
That agreeable feeling we haven't yet been able
The Driver of the Car Is Unconscious by Timothy Donnelly
Driver, please. Let's slow things down. I can't endure


Further Reading

Related Poems
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by Joshua Bell
The Convergence of the Twain
by Thomas Hardy