Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


The Night Ship

Roll back the stone from the sepulchre's mouth!
I sense disturbance deep within, as if some sorcery

had shocked the occupant's hand alive again, back
to compose a document in calligraphy so dragonish

that a single misstep made it necessary to stop
right then and there and tear the botched draft up,

begin again and stop, tear up again and scatter
a squall of paper lozenges atop the architecture

that the mind designs around it, assembling a city
somewhat resembling the seaport of your birth,

that blinking arrangement of towers and signage
you now wander underneath, drawn forward by the spell

of the sea's one scent, by the bell of the night ship
that cleaves through the mist on its path to the pier.

Surrender to that vision and the labor apprehensible
as you take to the streets from the refuge of a chair

so emphatically comfortable even Lazarus himself
would have chosen to remain unrisen from its velvet,

baffling the messiah, His many onlookers muttering
awkwardly to themselves, downcast till a sudden

dust devil spirals in from the dunes—a perfect excuse 
to duck back indoors. (The sand spangles their eyes,

the little airborne stones impinge upon such faces
as only Sorrow's pencil would ever dare to sketch,

and even then, it wouldn't be a cakewalk, you realize.
A dust devil at sea would be called a waterspout.)

You fear that you have been demanded into being
only to be dropped on the wintry streets of this 

imagination rashly, left easy prey for the dockside
phantoms, unwatched and unawaited, and I know 

what you mean, almost exactly. This cardboard city
collapses around us; another beautiful document

disassembles into anguish—a cymbal-clap—and we can't
prevent it. At one the wind rises, and the night ship

trembles, drowsing back into its silver cloud. At two it embarks
upon a fiercer derangement. We are in this together.

And we will find protection only on the night ship.

Credit


Copyright © Timothy Donnelly. First published in Columbia: A Journal of Literature & Art, Spring 2004, No. 39. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Author


Timothy Donnelly

Donnelly's work has been widely praised. Jorie Graham has remarked that his poetry is "musically brilliant and articulate"

Date Published: 2004-01-01

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/night-ship