Sailing on the Fourth of July with a view of Manhattan, 2004

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Two centuries, a score of years and more, and this—
blue skies, contrails, a deep calm on the sound.

Furled through winter and spring just past,
the mainsail plays slap with the breeze, haughty
on the boom again.

Today we sail in freedom, skimming amidst
boats and yachts and sloops of the summer set,
past buoys and through the sound, the pilot
squinting at depths and shallows, steering with
or against the wind.

The wake of bigger craft hits us with a moment’s
shudder. We float at mid-channel, engine off,
anchor in dark water opaqued by surface light.


As if on cue, the gathering of vessels grows apace.
Upon the plains, this would have been a wagon fleet
of anxious voyagers intent upon their space on earth.

Brine-sprayed, sprawled on the prow, I think of those who’d
set free the land, put minor ones to slavery. They who fought
their own bondage have set alight the bush wars of the world
have seen the crescent wings coming home to roost, with fire.

Celebration’s rife across the land despite our times, now and
for all time jarred by towers on fire, as doom’s innocents fall
in soundless fear, an image from this becalmed spot, of dust
clouds billowing from that crushed world: a surreal livid past.

The fireworks start in synchrony, in symphony,
computers wielding Pollock’s brush, as Whitman’s
starry songs explode in multitudes of color parasols
and pinwheels, in dandelion bursts and booms,

in streams of firetails sizzling up from a spit of land
while along the shore, up to the wilds of Manhattan,
the fiery joy reverberates, from sea to homeland sea.

Silence and the dark reclaiming sound and sky,
the engines rev anew and all set out for home,
rippling waves against adjacent craft—

One Nation under God a prey to accidents at night.

The boat tips, I nearly go over with wine glass
in hand. Still we chug home half in laughter, half
in conversation, or the recitation of remembered

lines, Tennyson ‘s breaking waves and grief,
Arnold’s flashings of light across the strait

O such metaphors on love and loss, the sadness of the sea
too deep for even the most bereaved, darker than our port

Near midnight, we’re back at Steppingstone,
fagged out and fumbling towards the car

as Quickbeam rocks gently where she moors
at rest, drawing light her draught.

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