The Glass Boat Poems

(All four poems first appeared in Poem, Huntsville Literary Association, No. 86, 2001; and are also in The Soup of Something Missing.)

The Glass Boat (I)

Everyone told him he was crazy:

the boat’s own weight would shatter it in the harbor

or the first swell the size of a tall man

would break the bow as its face slid down the windward side.

If his glass boat survived long enough to catch

a large fish surely the thrashing strength of dying muscle

would smash the boat like a dinner plate flung into a fireplace.

That was thirty-one years ago.

Now he only fishes when the late afternoon sun

slides beneath the hull,

flooding the boat with a silver light.

On the voyage home he stares

through the glass bottom

at the darkening ocean,

the resting place of every drowned man.

The Glass Boat (II)

Standing on the deck, surrounded by dying fish and ocean,

he looks like a man walking on water.

Sunlight flattening across the bow confirms

it’s glass, not faith that he pilots to the harbor.

He once broke a leg; one foot on the deck,

the other on the dock as a swell lifted the boat.

Another fisherman set the injury in wooden planks

and newspapers wrapped with old netting.

For the next sixteen days he lived in a public house

above the fuel dock. His wife worked the boat.

The fish didn’t know the difference,

not even when she shoved her fingers in a mouth

to pull one from seaweed tangled on the propellers,

nor did the ocean looking through the glass bow

when she tied her long skirt around her waist

to keep fish guts from knotting the lace hem.

The Glass Boat (III)

The differences between the fog, an ocean

and a glass boat are indistinguishable.

A fisherman on an approaching boat could see

the weather and nothing else until he notices

the dark smudge in the gray. At first he believes

it’s the church at sea priests spoke of,

a soul’s life preserver rescuing it from the weight of flesh.

His belief is like candles stocked for stormy nights.

Coming closer, the glass boat becomes clear,

forcing the approaching boat to turn away.

The man in the glass boat just watches

steam from his coffee rise, pleased

by the way it becomes the weather.

The Glass Boat (IV)

The fisherman’s wife looks at the glass boat

from the dock and sees only the ocean’s

heave and sigh and calls it Grief.

The fisherman looks down at the glass deck

and sees only the vein-like currents and skeletons

knotted in sunken ships and calls it Faith.

Fish make names, too, names with long sounds,

familiar noises inside a shell or a hand

rubbing the three-day stubble on a tired face.

When fish look up at the glass boat they see heaven;

and hear its sound, net descending into ocean.

No seagulls follow it on the journey home,

just the foamy wake growing from the stern,

furrows of a freshly-plowed field.