Maneuvering

by Colin Sargent

by Colin Sargent

History remembers

The 1946 diplomatic mission President Truman

Took to South America aboard the USS Missouri,

Steaming out of Washington at midnight

Into the stars

 

But might easily forget

The young man out here,

 

Slack, bony, and lank,

With red hair, maybe,

From Texas, maybe,

A young Navy lieutenant from the Piney Woods, then!

Maneuvering his destroyer

down the bulrushes of the Potomac

Softly as you’d tiptoe into your

Daughter’s bedroom

To kiss her good night.

 

          God, it’s dark out here

 

Dark as a ouija board

Thrown down a mine shaft

 

And because the Missouri is as big

As Landover Mall and displaces

Most of the river, because

 

The president must be protected

Against all enemies, foreign and domestic,

 

Her destroyers must screen her

Far on the Maryland side,

Far on the Virginia side,

A bit dangerous, this screening,

 

Rushing into the blackness

With the bottom coming up quickly:

 

   Like braille the unseen shores

sweep by, close enough

    to hear a Northern Spy

 

Apple drop.

It was this dark

 

The night he came back

late from hunting, and having shot nothing,

shot mistletoe from the tops of trees

for his little girls,

 

This dark the first time his captain,

old riverboat captain

who never would trust sonar,

whispered to him

near the shores of Leyte,

 

Take off your shoes,

   feel for the bottom

   with your stocking feet.

 

And so at his command the entire watch section

aboard the USS Dyess

begins to take off their shoes,

calloused men

fresh from the Pacific Island War

strong enough to kick

your ass off the pier,

well these inexcoriable toughs

are now shoeless and geisha sensitive

 

The mud quivering below

erogenous as custard,

dreaming of being touched.

 

How dark it is

 

Out here in the cattails

out here in the real world

where Washington’s dollar probably splashed

 

And now these men are

 

Princess sensitive, vertiginous

waiting

waiting

geisha sensitive, opera appreciating

 

The quartermaster sighing

and lighting a cigarette.

 

“Many dark doorways

should only be entered

one man at a time,” they say,

 

But here in the night

with all the stars in the jar

 

There is the kind of beauty

that simply embarrasses men

 

Night pouring in

and the bridge lit by heaven

 

Then a single tree in white

out in front of the rest

steps out on stage,

 

The universe inside out

laughing, like the abyss…

 

Years later I ask him

Did you go aground?

 

And he smiles,

lights a pipe

beside the swimming pool

that a few months later

will be filling with leaves.

 

He’s gone now

and I think of him,

one foot

in the darkness,

one foot

 

here

more ready than anyone

to sense this side

and the other side

 

And brave enough to go there before me.

 

I can’t feel him beneath my feet.

I feel him … everywhere.

 

****

Colin W. Sargent teaches writing at The College of William and Mary. A former Ch-46D pilot and editor of the Navy’s Approach magazine, he started Portland Monthly magazine in his home town in 1986, where he continues as editor & publisher. A Maine Individual Artist Fellow in poetry, he has a PhD in creative writing from Lancaster University. Museum of Human Beings was his first novel. His second, The Boston Castrato, was published in 2016 by Barbican Press of London. He lives with his wife, Nancy, a former Naval Officer, in Virginia and Maine. www.colinwsargent.com.


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