Further Reading: Mare Liberum
Nathan E. White
grappling a poem by Douglas Smith, advocate and ally
Now the numbers.
Epitaph at Sea with Constellation Above
Mariner, descend, and the sea conceal
bird and sky and the drowned father below,
who shall not sing, who shall not rise, but dwells
among the abandoned gods, a body
unfolding dark, restless and fathoms deep.
Now the numbers and adequate height. Discriminate balance. Dual motions, buoyant, coupling, initially set off by stress and release. Two imperatives (jointly exhaled). We register the weight of descent and concealment: ocean and sea and polar ice leaving us so little to stand upon, small share of land. Solvent, anonymous, the father’s tomb requires an allowance.
We qualify less as auditors squinting, heads lowered, insistent on full disclosure.
High and low tides, locked in, we can assume every twelve hours twenty-five minutes. We discern in stark contrast sand deposited on the beach, windswept…sand screeded once and again with each passing wave. Not a problem.
How much a part
the buried figure.
Which constellation? What accentuated portion of that increate stardom? The verbal artifact has its own demands—the same patient study applied to the stars anciently, applied currently (in private chambers), persistent charting, tallying. Twelve syllables starting off: Epitaph at Sea with Constellation Above. Twelve signs succeeding along the meridian. One waits, distinctly inanimate: Libra, the scales.
Directing the eye…each definite article pulsating faintly, bracketing that vast expanse and particular flight overhead: the sea, bird and sky, the drowned father. We have other bodies to put an end to desire.
Held in remembrance…not as perishable commodity, this single inscription generously paced and accommodating. We get one sentence, kinetic: the key word, dwells, extended farthest to stick sharply in sight. All we are up against, receding--
Pontoons (visibly, semantically) securing this graded highway, granting access to both sides, hastening us over and against the set rhythmical pull and span of the lines. Firm within the pentameter, iambs voiced/scanned: descend, conceal, below, among…trochees scanned/voiced: father, body, restless, fathoms. A count of four each, a ratio approaching 1:1.
“We have no reason to mistrust the world, for it is not against us.” So determined, inalienable. Mariner…abandoned…unfolding. What does a cenotaph dictate? Readers, recipient—we’ll go on—parallel, unable to bend this equation: each body with its matching constitution, the percentage of water distinguishing this planet…
Any restrictions? Divided evenly, an odd number (we learn) casts a remainder. How far-reaching our own genealogy (as yet unseen). As much contributory, we retain the poet’s choice words, his intricate focus. Later reflecting without aid of printed symbol—we, momentarily stunned, startled, see change into something rich and strange…and sing uniquely within the choir.
From masthead and cloister sing without equal. Even the weighted body will likely resurface, given time.
About the author:
A giant bending his ear, Nathan E. White is the author of Apparent Magnitude (Aldrich Press, 2013). He offers critical instigation at The Work Stands.