May Swenson

May 28, 1913 – December 4, 1989 / Utah

7 Days On The Sea

The world is a ball of water.
See, it is round-sided.
I move across its topside,
upon the world, not in it.
The boat is a comb, acomb over idle
white hair.
Waves grow on a round skull
Sea, it is round-sided.
Fog is building a vessel.
Sea is the butt of a bottle.
Boat bobs in the center.
At the V
of the stern standing,
I see below me sea,
ceiling of fog, see
the round horizon, sea
tears on my cheeks. I see
through globes of tears
the last lost point of land.
The world all
of water below and a low
sky. The world is a ball
of water. Pendulum-sun
goes over slow.
All night out riding
beside the mast
the moon posts in the sky.


Aggressor prow. Agree-er sea.
In floes of marble vanish veins of foam
all morning. In the afternoon
the quarry-ocean starboard hisses, lashes into cracks.
Concussive blocks slip roaring aft.
A double thunder smacks the boat's drum-side.
Steep tents of wind and spray are pitched
on buckling, heckling water.
Papoosed under blankets, prammed in a yellow chair
on a grid of calked wide planks
that rush in long perspective to the rail,
I see a corner of the deck rise up
to roof over angled waves, and duck,
a hatch-lid closing below my eyelid's thatch.
Ramping, the paving sea romps, lifts, lets itself down,
rises, ramps and, romping, side-slips, lets itself down,
a floor that never stills and flats,
that never levels steady.
We dine behind steel ribs: a riveted whale,
white-bellied, bluntly breaks through acres of quartz,
bores a corridor with wedged head
in heavy, innocent, black, abundant water.
Portholes, gill-holes, jug-shaped, fill with sky
the purple whale-sheen drains away
fill with foam and freeze-greendrains away
fill with liquid sky, with solid sea, that drains away.
Oh, will it ever pause at half and half
so the soup can stop, can stop being sly in the bowls?


A slag-pile slipping, parting, shifting
black under ashes of cloud.
Smoke or snow blows off the square, the axe-blade waves:
A Nova Scotian color, the morning cold and April.
By noon blue tables with plentiful plates of foam.
Crisp napery of gulls unfolds aloft.
The wild side's portside after dark.
Ghost hogans rise on a plane of coal
in the mica of moonlight.
Houris, eeries, valkyries, furies,
sybils, satyrs, weirds and bards
orate, whistle, screech, scratch, scrabble,
snarl, quarrel, quibble in the rigging.
Trolls, trout, ghouls, geese and gargling walri
snort, sneer, chortle, sniggle, chuckle in the scuppers.
I stand at the rail of a wooden pen
all alone on the windy, dark, warped, harpy sea.
he moon gashing a cloud, slants up, slants down.
The moon is posting tonight.


Today, on the round horizon, rain in the east,
opposite a great gold sheepshead cloud.
I, in the portside lee of the fantale, found
the ladder of seven colors upsloped on the sea,
delicate-ribbed, quite short, a belt to the sky,
low-linking milky waves to a gray-scud dome:
Violet, Green, Yellow, Rose, and pallors in between.
All round, all large and round, the plattered sea.
All curved, all low and curved, the lid of light.
The white duck of the boat an only lump on the sea.
I, there, could not see me,
but who stared from the stair of the rainbow could see.
Tonight I lie on a shelf, the cabin dark,
the bunk floats in the purring ship on the panting sea.
I-Eye open, level with the porthole, see
in miniature, round-framed, captured, the round sea:
like a rushing sky of blue-black foaming clouds
racing counter to the boator like engines of infinity
pulsing a summer heaven full-speed by.
Or the hole is a planet turning, star-spray dashed
before its face as it travels the orbit's rail.
Or that white scud is its restless atmosphere.
Or it is a moon whose white volcanoes steam
such fluvia across its somber carapace.
The ship leans slippery sideways. My cradle rocks.
A rough wide white lash rears up, smacking the glass.
Atomic, bombastic water blasts, obliterates
the porthole's iris. The cabin quakes.


Eye out running
on soft flints
on the pathless sea.
White-lipped near-stones
now ganged close to the boat.
A circular pasture
raked and cleared today
of wraths and rips,
snowy jags and cones.
I on the quarter deck
in-rolled in my chair,
infant or invalid set to cure
or spoil in the sun,
I run behind my outrunning eye
to toe every wave
that skips to the thin horizon,
every colt-blue wave
and its cobalt shadow . . .
Orange anchor-sun
steadies my chair.
Deck builds a foothill,
sea a gulf, and stern,
a great hip, leaps
on wind-free air.

I look for, what do I look for on the unfurnished sea?
On land I longed for a large place empty.
Eye-I avoided obstacles, vehicles, people, shapes intercepted.
Eye-I wished to veer out far, long, wide, high, unframed, uninterrupted
but like a thrown stone bumped, stopped, stumbled into buildings.
Now no upright, only the permanent low-fleeing waves
the sparse and insubstantial, transient clouds . . .
Which white loller afar might be a boat?
Or porpoise, or even a swimming man
naked, living on wave as gull on air?
Which dark dollop might be nose of a whale?
Or wooden joist from a down-gone ship?
Or even a seated man, ebony, shining
Sea-Buddha, rigid, afloat, with ivory grin? . . .
Only the waves perpetual, only the unpeopled sea.


There on the round rim east,
on the compass curve,
the ship the sextant's center,
there on the lead-thin line
I see a mark!
Growing square, approaching.
A hut? Oh, it is a boat,
a twin-ship sailing to meeting.
Trundling, tossing, tipping,
persisting, coming on.
Expanding, rounding tubbish,
towing a wide wake.
Cross-barred masts for and aft
stab her solid to the sea.
Yellow and green, her plump
stack issues energy.
Our sister passes, she
is our mirror on the wave.
How like a painted boot
(with doll-arms waving from decks!)
In full-hooped splashing skirts
she bobs on, opposite bound.
We wave all our arms.
Our toot salutes her toot.
So soon she littles and fades,
graying to a hut
of mist in the shape of a square.
And sharpens to a mark
on the empty map of the west.
And teeters on the edge
of horizon, and rolls off. . .
a period fallen from the font.


Land. Yes, Ho! A mist-made coast,
a strand of Ireland sighted off the bow.
Fast Net Rock, admonitory tower,
the lighthouse rising dour on a fist of stone:
Cobh comes forward quiescent to greet
the float of the boat.
How mat-mild now the tantrum sea
lured to the cove.
How flat and old the world,
and odd and still,
when upcropped the horizon halts
the willful eye,
shows it its stall and pasture
safe and small.
All sibilant little laps the boat glides on,
its lunge arrested.
A great heart has stopped.
A silent sled is whitely, mournfully borne
to the gray land's shed.
I, in the prow, here, hear my pulse again,
feel equal feet on the steady deck.
Fence of the rail nears fence of the dock.
The door to the wild is closing.
With hanging neck
I watch that crack far down
the world around
and world not round
through sliding tears.
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