A Ship For My Death
I wish to leave some monument, before
I die, so I am able to reflect
On what I should have been; because the shore
That I must pass has no return, once wrecked
The only ship that might have brought me home –
Dismembered, rolling on the pallid foam
Of the Dark Sea. From splintered matchwood, who
Could reconstruct the beauty of that boat,
Or purpose, why and where it meant to go
In carrying my soul, how it would float
Back to that far original sunrise
Whose light exposes what is truth, what lies,
And what the nature of its cargo was?
So I must build a ship for death, a barque
That bears a memory of me, because
That other ship, my body, will not hark
Back to my life, for once its subtle winds
Become dispersed, and once the cord that binds
It has been cut by fate’s capricious hand,
Then those still travelling upon the sea
May never contemplate before they land
On shore unknown my last vitality,
As once I did in tombs that I then saw
Like upturned boats upon the Lycian shore.
Of what then can I build this ark of mine,
To bear within my immortality?
What oak or ash can I cut down, what pine
Or cedar hew for my security?
Whatever forest, and whatever wood,
I shall be taking what has been made good
By other planting, toil and nurture, long
Before the hand that plunders that slow growth
Had digitally sprouted from among
The cells established by a plighted troth
Of two conjoined in random circumstance
By centripetal force of nature’s dance.
And who am I to pluck the fruit of slow
Maturity? Such sacrilege negates
All righteous memory. Where can I go
When every broken bough thus violates
The work of nature if not husbandry,
And tooth of saw destroys a legacy?
The matter that I work on must needs be
Some thing I almost made from no thing –
An interstice which every one can see
And filled by what I was – a vacant ring
Become a diadem, a hollow bell
That tolls a fame no mortal voice could tell.
Perhaps the treasure I will use to deck
My ship was won by force of arms, and set
A record straight, a torque torn from the neck
Of a foul enemy who won a bet,
And came by it without a just dessert –
A harvest sprung from bitterness and hurt,
Now righteous cause of this my great effect.
Or maybe I could cause to rise from dross
Some thing magnificent, some thing correct
From what was wrong, to turn what was a loss
Into a gain, and thereby leave my mark,
And turn a waste, perhaps, into a park –
But then be charged with exploitation of
Goods purchased at a knock-down price, a way
To white the sepulchre I raised above
A mess of bones that will not rise, the pay
That I must give, too grudgingly,
To get what should be rendered to me free:
Unstinting praise from men for my good deeds
Which should be done with no reward in mind,
Except to make a no thing of those needs
Which buried folk alive, and help them find
A new beginning. This should be the way
My chantry-priest receives his fee to pray;
For well we know that knights of olden times
Paid handsomely for masses in their name,
Because the ones who wondered at their tombs,
Illiterate, saw eulogies in vain,
But yet could hear an echo of the gold
Which brought a kind of warmth to what was cold
And hard: the real blood enchaliced there
(At least to faith if not to sight) spelled life
Eternal to a statue’s stony stare,
And monkish chant could pass for keen of grief
As long as those whose arms, there carved, prevailed,
And could ensure it was for them it wailed.
But now the masses read. And read they shall,
If they are so inclined to now descend
These metered steps, to read upon the wall
Of this my tomb my verse, just how my end
Has justified my ragged means: my lines
That vanish to eternity in signs.
So thus it is: my ship for death, festooned
With leaves torn from the story of my life,
A rich thesaurus where each item, honed
From love and hate, from passion and from strife
Goes up in flames that blend with setting sun,
And sheds some light on what was lost, what won.
Except no one will read it, that’s a fact –
Unless their own concerns will prompt them to.
Then my reflections in a mirror cracked
Become a virtual quarry for some new
Memorial to some one unknown to me
Which leaves no trace of what I used to be.
So that’s the end of it, the full stop to
My life, the chiselled epitaph obscured
By overgrowth, my only hope a clue
In worn-out letters made out on the floor
Made smooth by those who come, then go
Of what the story was of those below.