Sunday, April 5, 2009

"Night-Sea Journey"

Howdy folks—still kind of caught up in a incommunicado state—sporadically & unpredictably so, probably to remain true thru the near future. I’ll post when I can, & whenever I have the chance also will try to catch up with a lot of blogs I’d like to be reading.

Today’s poem is one I wrote early in 1986. It actually was inspired by an E. Gorey poster in a bar in Columbia, SC. The poster has the quote included as a epigram to the poem, & as I recall (it was 23 years ago!) showed a stocky moustachioed little fellow looking out to sea & holding a valise. I think the character reminds me of an old personal favorite, Henri Michaux’s Plume. I first read the Plume pieces back in high school, & while I don’t believe Plume was in the forefront of my mind when I wrote this, I think I’ve pretty well internalized this character. According to the Kirjasto site:

Michaux's most famous book, UN CERTAIN PLUME (1930), contains fifteen sketches of his alter ego, Monsieur Plume. He is an antihero, who confronts the world in tragicomic adventures. Michaux has said the the character was born during his visit to Turkey and "died" when he had to return. In the title story the hero wakes up and falls asleep several times. Meanwhile his house is stolen, and he is brought into trial after his wife is found in eight pieces, but Plume himself has not noticed anything. Plume continues again his sleep. Plume appeared also in PLUME PRÉCÉDÉ DE LOINTAIN INTÉRIEUR (1938) and 'Tu vas être père (d'un certain Plume), which Michaux wrote in 1943. The word 'plume' means 'feather' but it refers also to a penman (un homme de plume). According to Michaux, Plume got his name from Edgar Allan Poe's short story 'The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Feather'.

Hope you enjoy the poem. I think it was one of my better Charlottesville productions.

Night-Sea Journey

Though he is a person to whom
things do not happen, perhaps they
may when he is on the other side.
E. Gorey

His suitcase is very big, but it's not
a cruise-ship. He wouldn't get far
floating on it, or trying to steer
by the handle. He needs a real boat,
since his valise is probably
filled with inconsequential,
at least to sensible people,
trinkets— some photos, framed, and a diary
that hasn't been blessed with many entries.

His topcoat is very long, but it's no life
preserver. It isn't orange
for starters, but colorful as porridge
perhaps. It wouldn't excite the sea gulls even
and might be scorned as tasteless
by great white sharks. So he'll sail at evening.
With him for company, the ticket agent's
bored. The ocean rolls colder, vacant.

His ship is very late, and the land
erodes or retreats, so the shaky pier's
his final refuge. Something looms nearer
on the horizon—
an island or whale in the full moon's teasing
unrefined light.
Terns squawk, berating onshore breezes
that blow them near. He'll sail all night
if ever, but has no snack to eat.

Finally, he's very cold, though the tide
promises a ship, or to deliver
a transport to save the potential voyager.
You might say he's dissatisfied.
But if steam would pipe from smoke stacks,
around which fluttered flags of every country,
he could make jokes with the first mate.
And if the gang-

plank dropped on the other side,
stung alive by ocean's frothing all night,
he'd shake hands with the by-now jovial captain
and sagacious travellers. That's the new man.

John Hayes
© 1986-2009

NOTE: I meant this to be posted, but in my haste I got the date wrong on the scheduler feature. Anyway, it's like buying the Sunday paper on Saturday night: Monday's post on Sunday.


  1. Regardless of when it got posted, this is a wonderful poem. I am visualizing an Hercule Poirot figure on the deck of a very large ship.
    It was quite different from your other pieces, but I have to say I found it very enjoyable.


  2. I am impressed with how you can remember back so far. I am lucky to remember things from yesterday.

    This was a nice poem and I could just see it.

    Thank you again.

    God bless.

  3. I love Edward Gorey and your poem, as well. It would be fun to see the poster that inspired you.

  4. Hi Kat, Mrsupole & Willow:

    Kat: The Charlottesville stuff is quite a bit different than the San Francisco stuff-- a lot more controlled. Glad you liked it.

    Mrsupole: Actually in some ways I can remember 20 years ago better than yesterday!

    Willow: Thanks-- I did a Google image search & went thru quite a few pages-- as far as I can tell, that particular image hasn't made its way online.

  5. I loved the line orange as porridge perhaps. So incredibly creative. I loved the first line, especially, too..."it's not a cruise ship." My father, a sailor, would have loved this. And, he would have loved blogging.

  6. Hi Jen:

    Thanks for those very kind & generous words about RFBanjo. I believe the "orange/porridge" line was partly a joke on the old "no rhyme for orange" routine. Glad you liked it.


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