We Sail at Dawn

BETWEEN the black warehouses, dull to dawn,
towards funnels, masts, and the dock where cotton bales
bulge for pecunious looms down time, and bulls
bellow to have eventual landing done . . .
behind the bleak hills lurks legitimate sun.
Fog sleeps on the wharves. Cabmen, fishmongers
smoke in the dying darkness, desperate to dock rats.
The stowaways that escaped the three weeks’ hunger
crawl from under the pier where flotsam rots
and want to ship eastwards at the cheapest rates.
Gesticulate Portuguese have bought the dead,
Jews in lifeboats paddle behind the wake
to salvage refuse and the soon subdued;
the Chinamen have shrewdly bought the weak,
counting upon abacus those that have died.
But now the sun, the song when anchors rise
to the screeching winches on the forward deck.
The helmsman takes the orient in his eyes,
the mate shouts ‘Anchors aweigh,’ and the crew ‘Aye-ayes’...
the aliens count their profits and finger their dirks.
Surf-scum, garbage drifting, and gifts to gulls.
The coffee-smell from the galley, tall sails unclewed,
the purser checking the bales and the bawling bulls,
the hatches closed, the ship in a canvas cloud
before a wind on the beam, and the harbor cleared.
Holystone the deck. Get up the paint
to revirginate the ship before the ice
thrusts growling towards the prow by Malice Point.
The cook is mending his pants by the crew’s advice.
The captain commands the wind with a calm clear voice.