It starts out cool, like steel
behind your neck, tickling your hairline
even before you hear the sound.
Then the brass bell clangs, your eyes open.
Iron gray skies, no horizon. The sea
is slate, still. What passes for light
weighs heavy on you. Pray for a light
wind. Your body wants the swell that bounced the steel
buoy, rang the brass bell. The Sargasso Sea
should be bright, if still. Gray lines
casting sharp shadows on the open
sails. Dolphins should play and sound
bright blue, teasing you (you are sound
asleep. This is a dream of ancestral light.
You’re no sailor). But here, the open
ocean is flat, unforgiving as the steel
fixing your keel. You’ll never reach the line
that may mean land, an end of sea.
It’s not dark. Just too dull to see
shapes. You remember the bell, its sound
nearby. Some cable, some line
fixes the bellbuoy here. Running lights
reveal nothing. Perched on the bow, grasping steel
cables, cold and sharp, that cut open
palms. Nothing. No island, no ice. Just open
water, closed sky. This ugly sea
is endless (even knowing you sleep you steel
yourself for cold disaster). The sound
of the bell fades. Then the sun falls flat, light
comes right at you from the west. A line
of white, sharp wavelets. Lines
of wind on water. Your eyes wide, lungs locked open
as if it were solid, as if you could breathe light.
The sun slips low, painting an edge of the sea
orange, briefly, then it’s gone. Soft sounds
of water slapping the dull. a creak of steel
cable. No stars. No lines. Even the sea
has vanished. You want to open your eyes. The sound
of an alarm. You wake, grabbing all the light your eyes can steal.
~ Mark J. Mitchell
Mark J. Mitchell studied writing at UC Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver, George Hitchcock and Barbara Hull. His work has appeared in various periodicals over the last thirty five years, as well as the anthologies “Good Poems”, “American Places”, “Hunger Enough”, “Retail Woes” and “Line Drives”. His chapbook, “Three Visitors” has recently been published by Negative Capability Press. “Artifacts and Relics”, another chapbook, is forthcoming from Folded Word and his novel, “Knight Prisoner”, was recently published by Vagabondage Press.. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the documentarian and filmmaker Joan Juster.
Featured artwork: Untitled (gouache on paper), by Babar Moghal.