The Nautical Why

The Nautical Why

By cowardice or courage
I came to walk the Cape
of Massachusetts
to rummage feet through dune grasses
and quarrel against tides, tunnel
into the swift corridors of sea
and sand, and slip under the spell
of fragrant beach plums. To get

to the heart of it: the skeletal truth,
that unglimpsable mystery
which makes sailors leave
the thick yet shrinking land
and battle myths of octopus
and white whales. I want
to resolve the nautical why—
the question of density,
flotation, and shipbuilding
inside and out.

I want to know, too, what makes
that great beast of waves and salt
spit back the pine hull
of an antediluvian vessel held
together with wooden pegs
pounded first by hands and later
hammered again by dense
saline fingers. After sleeping

for centuries perhaps, the shipwreck
lands in front of my own storm-tossed eyes
and I witness first hand what sea takes
and what it gives back. Later

passing dunes, I see strewn among
quahogs and crabs, the ribs
of a seal, bone-white and eaten
with the same hull-empty shape
of the shipwreck, the same
twisted scroll that we all leave behind.
In the end we go to sea
for the taking, for the wreck
and its story, for the possibility
of opening the belly of the whale.

Amy Nawrocki's picture

Last updated March 21, 2011