His wooden universe,
cold and damp,
slips out of indigo waters
by way of kinder wind
and a sun more amiable
than one framed by sextant
at noon over the Atlantic.
He is cherry cheeked,
no longer a pale palette of infancy.
Yet there remains
the shimmer of innocence
on smooth arms and legs,
a virginal epaulette
of battle experience.
He is the audience
not the storyteller;
a greedy voyeur of manhood
and war—that thing they call Action—
in the glorious West Indies.
The captain, his god,
has replaced Mother,
leaving only a tendril of memories
to seep into a stubborn conscience
like irksome water through the caulking
when rain falls.
He steals moments
in the topgallant crosstree,
soars with canvas kites,
contemplates clear horizons,
and considers that Destiny
just might lie between these white beaches
to promote and reward him as Midshipman,
or some far-off day, perchance,
an officer’s post.
His peers, cutthroat educators,
sport splinter and shrapnel scars
far more impressive
than the trace burns
on his small hands
from simple gunnery practice.
Hungry for initiation,
it arrives so long after expectations
that he is fearless and invincible
when the call to stations comes.
Heart pounding courage into him,
the seductive scent of slow match,
and a grip on his innards
(That heavy fist of hard-weeviled biscuit),
he cheers when he sees her,
The Indomitable, 80 guns,
take the first broadside from his party.
He knows in the instant
his vision is clouded by heavy smoke,
ears deafened by thunderbolts of iron,
that he will forever tarry here
under pennants and sunsets,
until his hammock and round shot
are the last arms to cradle and pull him
gently down into the emerald deep.
Image: The Boys of 1812 and other naval heroes (1887)