from The Blue Boat


Delivered to the Sea

to the memory of my father


I’d like to believe this is the moment
when the sails grow taut, and the boat heels over
and flies.  The soul off to a sky without death
unconcerned that the body is now only ashes.
You’ll be thinking how our molecules
could meet there, according to the laws of physics,
which somehow always made sense to you,
while the idea of someone making them never did.


Since your death I have been obsessed with numbers.
I want to live a long time and know exactly
what my income will be each year to the penny—
to calm me because of what I cannot know?
The other day some of your old books came in the mail.
Your Hebrew bible.  Your Harvard Class of  ‘34
Twenty-fifth Reunion volume.
There you are, in 1950s glasses,
looking happy in your middle age.
Even you, with your powerful math,
couldn’t chart your life.  And exactly where
did it end?  The Lucite plaque
amongst the books in the carton says,
“Respectfully delivered to the sea,” and gives
the precise coordinates to the thousandth of a minute. 
I’m your son, so I get on the computer
and plot the exact location east
of Port Everglades, where the depth
is 117 feet, but your ashes
probably drifted.  Here math, even yours,
loses track.  Where are you now
exactly?  Everywhere and nowhere.
I remember how you had to teach me
the lines on the map don’t really exist,
and an unmarked ocean flows around the globe.


I feel like saying, “My heart is heavy
as an anchor,” but don’t feel anchored,
nothing in the deep down there that I can believe in,
just fluidity, weather.  What’s so different
now that you’re gone?  In recent years
I saw you rarely, the old age home
1400 miles to the southwest,

as remote as a hurricane that will never reach us.
I didn’t rush to Florida when you were dying.
I stayed circumspect, practical.
So I’m caught with words in my mouth
I never used.  Goodbye dear father.
I write this on the boat.  It sways,
rocking me, as if it’s breathing.


This is the harbor you crossed each day
on your way to college, riding the ferry.
And this water is the Atlantic
where your ashes are scattered.
And now I feel less like a son
than a descendant, making my own way,
free and circumspect.  First day of fall
and I’m in a good spot, anchored
in the bight of Thompson Island
just out of the wind, though I hear it
exclaiming like a huge chorus—
now diminuendo—are there children
shouting, on a class picnic?—
but no waves in here.  The boat rocks
just a little, making its small,
contemplative sounds.  I’m sure
you believe you don’t exist, however bemused
you seem to be about where we end up—
you with no say about where we’ll anchor. 

The Blue Boat

If the boat is ugly, but the bay is beautiful,
is the sail a good one?  And if the other boats
are beautiful, but their hulls and sails are stenciled with ads,
is the weather still beautiful if the winds are light?
And if the winds are steady enough to take us out of the
tacking from deep inside its high cliffs,
and out across the bay to the base of the mountain,
then back to the cliff, could the cave look
like the mouth of a giant with tonsils showing?
And if the boom hits me in the head, but I’m carrying
aspirin?  And if the back of the boat starts leaking
the front of the boat is automatically bailing?
And if the “president” of the club, who rented us the boat,
offers us white wine grown here in Cassis
when we return, and we spend an hour talking,
is that part of the experience?
And does experience matter more than pleasure?
And is pleasure better than peace?  I’ve nothing
but peace today—and sore bones—
sitting alone in my apartment in Aix
without any phone.  My head’s stopped hurting.
I’m completely free, but is that better
than assigning myself some task?  For example
editing the photos from yesterday?  Here is the boat
the spiders had been living in till we cleaned it.
And here is the foot of water sloshing in the bottom
when we still couldn’t stop the leak in the stern.
And these are the huge swirling speckled cliffs
you can’t see from the land.  And here’s me
beneath the shade of my straw hat,
pale as a mushroom dragged out of its cellar,
looking like a scholar who thinks everything’s in books,
seduced by a blue boat, and the sea.

“Delivered to the Sea” originally appeared in Salamander; “The Blue Boat” in The Kenyon Review.
cover art:  Nan Hass Feldman, The Boats Come to Yellow Sky, oil on panel