A science of inks and rumors,
quill and vellum, Cartesian grids
that net oceans of blank page
in lines as slight as hairs—
these are what he thinks about
over pints of sour beer in Lisbon
while he waits for the steepled ships
to belly through the bay,
each prow folding back the sea
in downy blankets. Sailors, rimed
with salt and starred with scales
from flounder, plaice, and sole,
will stagger to their cups,
and for a dram or a coin
they’ll run a callused finger
over the table, tracing their paths
across the sea’s broad, scarred back.
Later, slightly drunk and wavering
between candlelight and the moon,
he will imagine those lines
and follow them past sad-eyed mermen,
brine-cloaked dragons, and deserts
of calmed water until, at last,
he finds a jungled island, its sand
the color of his daughter’s hair.
He will urge the stylus across the copperplate,
his hand always moving out
to find his own heart, sea-dark and vast.
Originally published in Poetry.