Address to the Drowned Seaman, in Answer to His Distress Flare at Rockall, Mid-Atlantic, 1944
after ‘Pincher Martin’
You have already drowned, although you think
you made it to the rock. The dwarf you build
is the means by which you reconstruct yourself,
stone by stone. The rock is a tooth. The gulls
that flap around your head are umbrellas shaken out,
reptiles that snap, the fat lobsters either side
are your own hands. A thousand years pass in the seconds
you dream you have kicked off your boots. Done,
but not. Time is torpedoed, a flame of belief.
Time bellies out but, for once, your snarly entitlement
cannot get you out of this: your stone-in-sock
of bluster, hem-weights of gall, mistreatment of women
pour like the whole Atlantic into your seaboots
which are still on your feet, which now drag you down.
The Drowned Seaman Replies
The radio sputtered alive, I heard a tiny voice
which sounded like my own. I shiver,
shiver in oilskins and seaboot-socks on this rock,
death’s scapegrace shivering in its own bones.
I’ll have my will. By chaining down this rock
with names, I anchor it. Otherwise I fear
the rock might, like so much vapour, evaporate;
or else, without more weight, be flapped away,
tied to the foot of one mad, yodeling gull. Now I know
a man needs anything more than rock as much
as Mary’s fish a buckled velocipede.
These are the rock’s concerns. Out here, I verify
like crustaceans feeding on solid rock
the manumitted ego is mouth, is snarl.