Tuesday, December 15, 2009

San Pedro Harbor

for Melinda Owen

When you are powerless
To sand-bag this Atlantic bulwark, faced
By the earth-shaker, green, unwearied, chaste
In his steel scales: ask for no Orphean lute
To pluck life back.
—Robert Lowell, “The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket”

I have never met a man who later died at sea
Owing to my birth far away from New England
In both time and space. The tankers that leave

San Pedro Harbor, black metal-flanked and
Steaming, floating atop the Pacific
Like furnaces, seem things peopled by wan

Ghosts in overalls, greasy slivers of men quick
To be forgotten by those on whose pens fall
The task of romanticizing the specific,

Unseen elements that constitute all
That is thought possible to capture in poetry.
(Consider Beauty, for instance, or those small

Unnamed acts of kindness that so easily
Fit the ontological structure
Of pentameter verse). But what the sea

Swallows out of rage or quietly defers
Back to shore is its own prerogative;
And the heroes it makes out of some sailors

It unmakes in others, allowing those who live
To return home, unsung perhaps, but never
needing that song, so hollow and unlike the waves.

- Ryan Ruby
(originally published in Tabourey Magazine, Oxford, 2004)

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