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Sport 39: 2011

In memory of my great grandfather Heinrich Augustus

page 238

In memory of my great grandfather Heinrich Augustus

from The Lifeguard (10)

Wrapped in grey air,
the city might be a roiling fog-bank

shot through with iridescent gulls
in patterned flight

or a poor sailor’s mirage of angels
skating on icebergs

in that secret ocean they warned him
to steer clear of

because under the alluring lustre
of sliding lights

lay a great chasm that plunged
all the way down to Hades,

though others muttered that this
was where the world’s surplus drained

once it had been earned
by the hard work of sailors

and their brothers on land
heaving coal into capital’s maw.

page 239 But even down there
you can’t get your hands on money

and if you could, what use
would that be? It’s in this world

and in this life that
happiness hangs in the air

like a veil of glittering mist
he knows will part

on a day be believes
is nearing at the same rate

the log line shows
in the ship’s dwindling wake.

He bequeathed his boys those
blue Baltic eyes, and the crooked

front tooth that gives their grins bite.
His ghost leans in the window

on nights when the wind chokes
with lit-up plastic bags.

There’s a sudden smell of
schnapps and salt in the room

and brined herring with
Estonian dill pickle—herrlich!

‘Maria Reepen, are you there Feinsliebchen?
It’s your sailor boy

page 240 who can’t rest in the old
flax swamp by the river-mouth

where mullet ride the tide upstream
through sepia cowshit.

What happened to the water
that resembled moonlight

through ice? I need to know
what your cool eyes were looking at

the last time I saw them, Maria,
flooded with silence.

I think they’d turned inward
and were sizing up the abyss

that opened through you
like a great whirlpool

or like a hollow cone
whose vanishing point

pierced the material world
and touched oblivion.

I think I heard something
like that silence once

when thick mist came
down through the rigging

off Punta Arenas, a place known
for its wild winds,

page 241 and even the ship’s creaking cordage
was quiet. Then the top’s’l

cracked tight and the ship
leaned forward again

into air like clear water.
I saw it was a new world

I’d entered, with Maria’s hands
like resting terns on the rail

and her pale hair blowing forward
the way we were sailing.’

Sleek pleasure-craft are lined up
along the marina

rattling their halyards much as
the weekend brunch crowd

rattles its plates. The tide sighs out
taking the city’s filth with it

and we all wait for it to
breathe in again

across a brief silence, a kind of airy clearing
that almost goes unnoticed.