The land was nothing. Just fields of blank ice and trees dying,
crows hooting and tumbling over the granite of our disbelief.
For those who didn’t leave quarter, cold whippings. For those
who did, whipping cold and icy boots, flamed skin, hollows
of hunger that plunged whale-deep. Appetite’s animal snarl,
ribs prowing hard through seas of skin. Sunken eyes, graves
of dark flesh. Whatever rode us there, gone and laughing.
Once, we found a honey nest but indoors was just a queen
alone, her crowned head raving, jelly sucked dry as biscuit.
Then our lanyards went. Then oar-grips, chucked to the boil,
then laces and the useless tackle. One day it was mop stew
and next our coats and just sucking the sopped plackets
for the warmth against our gums. The raw taste of decision.
And it became enough. The slap and toss, hammering sun
roasting our necks and iron blood nailing in our veins.
We were thankful for the square jaw of work. Thankful
for wet beds and no women and seedless days, hours bruised
by heaving work, bones creaking like galley ropes. Thankful even
for the nimbleness of cranes. We could watch them soil
the marge with oyster shells and throat-shimmy clams
until they were women dancing and we stripped and fell
flat against the sand, flapping in the liquid. Hard and alive.
And Gwendolyn, a warm rain lashed our faces. And days
of fish, days of languor. Hot days of moss and tendril.
And when we walked back through bramble we knocked
the hulls of trees with our knuckles though we didn’t know
why. We brewed liquor from oak bark and lay in the grass
and drank, drank, drank, drank until darkness fell
and someone swore he heard horses thundering above us