At Sea Two
The piping of the boatswain’s whistle…
“Now hear this!
Cleaning stations fore and aft,
All hands man your cleaning stations!”
The shrill, low, high, low whistle sounded again.
Hanging the HEAD SECURED sign on the outside,
swinging the hatch shut, securing it from the inside,
lighting a cigarette, the young man went to work…
Bong! A hollow, metallic, Bong!
Anxious to use the head, Bong!
A seaman pounding on the secured hatch.
Jesus, can’t he read?
“Deck’s just been swabbed!”
“Try one’a the other heads!”
The piping of the boatswain’s whistle...
“Now hear this! Secure all duty stations!
All hands report for work parties!”
The whistle sounded again.
In foul weather,
cutting through waves,
the bow of the ship rises above the water’s crest
and as it passes over the swell and drops into its trough,
depending on the height of the crest and the depth of the trough,
striking the water with a shuddering crash.
Powerful winds howling through the constantly shifting
rigging playing a discordant, lunatic’s cacophony,
the prow rose, ascending upward and upward, until, momentarily,
all the man on watch was able to see was a world of roiling black clouds
as the ship seemingly was pushed backwards on the water’s precipitous turbulence.
Three-hundred-eleven feet aft,
the twin propellers rose out of the water to spin uselessly
as the ship hesitated on the crest of the wave for an eternal heartbeat,
as the torrent’s momentum pushed the ship backward,
the propellers bit once again and, tottering,
the ship slid off the crest of the giant wave into its dark-green,
near vertical trough, where it picked up rollercoaster speed and,
with a shuddering crash,
the prow struck, submerged, and flung a sheet of water backwards,
dousing the shivering lookout on the flying bridge,
sending driblets of cold water down the back of his foul-weather gear.
Now the man on watch saw only boiling green water.
Rising… Rising, again…
Rotating with the motion of the ship,
the crew instinctively rotated their bodies from hip to hip
as their legs alternatively became longer and shorter.
In the galley:
Hissing, spitting, water and cooking oil sloped out of
secured pots and pans onto gas flames and hot griddles.
Chow trays slid from side to side on the long tables as the men
held onto their trays with one hand and the bench they sat on with
the other while waiting for a level moment when they were able to
release either the tray or bench long enough to shove some food into
their mouths before dropping their fork or spoon to grab hold of the
tray or bench again.
Lying awake, listening as a forgotten screwdriver maddeningly rolled from one side,
clanking into the bulkhead…
then, rattling as it rolled, to the other side.
Shifting from side to side, subconsciously hanging onto the bunk frame…
occasionally falling off.
The seas abated.
The winds subsided.
The air cold, invigorating.
Clouds floated from here to infinity.
Forward, to the east, beautiful to behold in the intense,
cerulean blue heavens, virginally white clouds formed thin,
stuttering banks broken by ragged strips of deep blue sky.
To the north and west the clouds were thick and puffy with stark, solid appearing, three dimensions,
leaving the definition of their phantom shapes to the eye,
and imagination of whomever was looking.
©October 27, 2011 / Mark M. Lichterman