W. D. Ehrhart  

Channel Fever

    When I cast off in my small boat
with its one sail white and yellow
brilliant in the sunlight, I thought
I heard the sea calling in a soft song
sweet as any mermaid sings to sailors
in their dreams. I disappeared after it
into that vastness searching, searching.

I have caught fish to feed myself,
throwing the offal and bones to the sharks,
eating the meat raw, washing it down
with rainwater collected in a tin cup.

I never imagined it would be so lonely.
At times I have been delirious:
tearing the tattered remnants of my clothes,
shouting at stars, fighting to keep
from pitching myself headlong into the sea.

The dolphins, at least, were real; sometimes
on bright days they paced my small boat,
breasting the waves, laughing—or at night,
their sleek gray bodies luminescent green
in phosphorescent moonlight. For awhile,
I thought it was their song I followed—
but the wind blew too steady for that;
the wind drove my small boat always
over the next wave, and over the next wave.

When I first smelled land, I didn't believe it.
"Is this what it means to be mad?" I thought.
But my small boat surged suddenly forward,
and the seabirds riding the waves suddenly
surged up screaming and whirling in great
wheeling circles of excitement—and I know now,
as any sailor does even before the long voyage

is over, all along it was your
invisible hand on the tiller, your
breath beating my small boat steadily on
toward the harbor shaped like a heart.
It was you.
It is your song I heard.
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    Copyright © 1984 by W. D. Ehrhart
To Those Who Have Gone Home Tired, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1984
This poem currently appears in Thank You For Your Service: Collected Poems, McFarland & Company, 2019
Copyright © 2011 - W. D. Ehrhart - homepage
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