If you have just arrived at The Library in Purgatory, the first chapter is here.


"I never found the girl, I never got rich. Follow me."

~Leonard Cohen

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Chapter III.3

Lost and Adrift on a Clear Blue Sea




Mankind owns four things

That are no good at sea—

Rudder, anchor, oars,

And the fear of going down.


— Antonio Machado


Thoughts on a Rainy Evening in the Adriatic

Forty-five miles seemed like fifteen through the binoculars, even with the clouds and the rain. Another flare went up and tracers floated lazily towards the sky. I lowered the binoculars to rest my eyes and shivered, ducking behind the break of the bridge wing.


We were cruising through the Adriatic at a leisurely three knots and patches of stars appeared overhead though breaks in the clouds as Serbs and Croats killed each other forty-five miles away in the harsh white light of the flares for reasons that no one understood, least of all me.


The country music throbbed in my head in a mysterious way that couldn’t be ignored, probably helped out by the gin and tonics. Townsend was drunk and I couldn’t remember the Greek dude who had said that everything was fire. Looked like it was going to be one of those nights.


The officer of the deck came out and took a bearing on the firefight with the Alidade, “At least we’re keeping their planes from flying,” he said.


“Yeah,” I thought, “so we can prolong the killing spree. Why not just let them get it over with and go about their business? If people want to kill each other, what business is it of ours?”


“What are you doing, writing a letter to your girlfriend?” The music hadn’t let up and I turned around to look at a long, blond-haired, blue-eyed, smiling face that hadn’t lost all the baby fat yet.


“No,” I replied, “about being in the Adriatic.”


“Oh,” she said, above the music, trying to reach back to high school, which wasn’t that long ago, with a puzzled look, and remember what an Adriatic was. “Isn’t that up by the North Pole?” she finally asked.


“No. North of the Med between Italy and Yugoslavia, or at least what used to be Yugoslavia.


“Oh.” Large smile, “What’s going on there?”


I paused, really looking at her for the first time, wondering what to say. I stubbed out my clove and looked away, “People are killing each other for no good reason.”


“What?” she asked, my voice drowned out by some asshole with friends in low places.


“Nothing,” I said, walking away without looking back.


Forty-five miles looked like fifteen though the binoculars, even through the clouds and rain and flares and tracers floating lazily though the sky as men with patriotism, god, and hate in their hearts killed each other under angry skies. At least I’d sleep in a warm rack after my watch was over.


The Young Man and the Sea

A man makes many trips to the Sea over a lifetime;
it is the symbol of the primordial being,
the Oneness of the Universe.
And, after drinking from it
he can, for a while, feel whole—
one.
But he will always hear its call if he stays away too long.

A man journeys to the Ocean
for the same reasons he seeks a solace in a woman’s arms—
it is the place he was born and the only place
he can lose himself completely,
if only for a while.


Introductions and Revelations

I flew out to Signonella, Sicily to meet my ship, which was already in the Adriatic. As we circled over NAVSTA 1 I looked out the window, having been lucky enough to get an emergency-aisle window seat for the flight. It was brown and looked remarkably like southern California in the summertime. I briefly toyed with the idea that that was actually where we were. I spent about two weeks there; waiting, working with the Sea Bees, getting paid, and collecting per diem; not a bad gig.


They initially put me and some other guys up at a hotel in town because the BEQ was full. Of course the first thing I did upon getting to my room was turn on the TV. They were showing reruns of Hill Street Blues; dubbed in what I guess was Sicilian. It was a little surreal and I wasn’t sure who they were rooting for, the cops or the crooks. Later I moved into the BEQ with a couple of engineers who were also going to the ship.


Working with the Sea Bees I usually got off around 1300 or so everyday. At some point in the afternoon the BBC would show a musical adaptation of some kids’ story. The only one that sticks out in my mind and still creeps the living hell out of me to this day was Christopher Walken playing Puss in Boots. I would rather watch Jacob’s Ladder and The Wall back to back, on bad acid, than see that again.


Anyway, one evening I was sitting on some aluminum bleachers next to the track after running a couple of miles. I was just sitting there looking at Mount Etna and the thought hits me that I have three and a half more years of this, whether I liked it or not. To that point, I hadn’t, and had a pretty negative attitude about everything and the Navy in particular. With that thought came the realization that the only difference between the next three and a half years being complete shit or a good time was me. It was one of those things that should be so stupidly obvious that it often isn’t. Right there I decided that I was going to take the Navy for as much as I could— training, experiences, good times, you name it. I was going to screw them out of more than they could screw me out of. Maybe not an ideal relationship but at least it was based in reality and on a clear understanding; definitely an improvement over the old one.


Not long after that and the Fourth of July (damn you Sea Bees and your homemade wine- Paquino Vino) I flew up to Trieste and boarded what was to be my home for the next two years, the USS Richmond K. Turner, CG-20.


The Bianco

A slight sultry breeze
blowing in the stars
and candles by the pool.
An empty bottle of wine at my table
and an Italian couple talking over Pavarotti
at the next.
I wish there were someone else here
to share it with;
then I’d be only
half as drunk
and twice as amused.


Fields of Gold

Standing on the threshold
of music and thought.
The penmanship
to capture the moment
I sadly lack
and so the heart runs free
and unfettered
bathed in the soothing melodies
of its own shadow
as I stand
enraptured in the glory
wishing I could transcen
mind and miles
to share it with
that someone
special—
to disappear
into a song
so sweet it makes your heart ache
willing me back
across the waves
to the people
I love.


The ocean is huge. It sounds ridiculous to say as such, but until you have experienced it, from somewhere resembling the middle, you have no idea just how true it is. I’ve seen it when it really was like glass, not a wave or ripple to mar the surface as far as you can see and it looks like you can walk all the way to that place where your dreams will come true, just over the horizon. The words are there, right in front of you, but they just don’t convey the experience.


BM3 Sal
That fucker, a dead on take for Putty from Seinfeld, only dumber…and meaner. This guy was about the laziest meathead the Navy ever saw. If he found a piece of garbage on the fantail, he would walk up to the foc’le to get someone to walk back with him to pick it up- a worthless fuck if ever there was one. When I reported to the Turner, almost everyone in Deck (OD) was wearing their dress shoes with their coveralls. Being a “boot” I asked what the hell was up. Seems Sal was in charge of berthing for the XO’s inspection of berthing and messing the day that the Turner was pulling out of port with Deck Division in their dress uniforms on deck. Sal, being the guy that he was, gear-adrifted everyone’s boots and boondockers and promptly float tested them over the side.


BM1 R. was banned from running any of the small boats, run a few too many into the side of the ship. He spent a great deal of time up in the boatswain’s locker writing pornography on the OD Division computer. Sadly, it was more a great source of amusement to us than erotic. Apparently it floated his boat though.


Untitled (Fort of Lost Souls)

And one night
I scaled the Fort of Lost Souls
to drink gin
and watch the stars dance in the Sea.


Pelicans

Pelicans swung lazy circles
over the choppy bay that night,
long beaks
ominously slung low—
20mm mini-guns
in C-47 gunships
over the Mekong Delta.


Midwatch

The stars slowly drifted by
under the black surface-search radar,
Morrison’s happy Jamaican accent
buzzing in my ear
as he talked to the port lookout.
The breeze was slight
and peaceful
as we cut through the Mediterranean
at a leisurely three knots.
To the west the afterglow was finally fading;
the Milky Way slowly coming out—
a translucent arch
cutting the sky in half.
Memories of old friends and places
haunted my head,
drifting by like the smooth swells,
lapping at the edges of my mind.
On the horizon
the blinking red strobe of an Italian P-3 Orion
flashed in the darkness as it banked right,
hunting for submarines.
Tipton brought out a cup of coffee,
the steam curling up around my face.
The warmth
was reassuring in my hands.


Even though I hated getting up for them like hell, the mid and rev watches were by far my favorites. The glow of the red lights on the bridge and the hushed voices, half hidden in the shadows, the aroma of warm “piping hot” curling up around your nose, other hand on the helm, the orange glow of the alidade as you took bearings to lights on the horizon— that dead time in between the waking hours. The nights were darker and the stars brighter than anywhere else I’ve been in the world. Sitting on aft-lookout, watching the wake trailing out behind the ship in the glow of the aft-running light, the OS’s voices buzzing gently in your ears through the sound-powered phones— when people think of that place they’d rather be then all others, well that is one of mine.


Lone Reader of the Apocalypse

I used to read
from the book of Revelations
on the midwatch
squinting with a red-lens’d
flashlight,
voice scratchy and distant
in the sound-powered phones.
I’dve also read from Daniel
if the O.T. had been included
in the little camo bibles
the chaplain handed out
with the condoms
when you went ashore
on liberty.
For some reason,
the Apocalypse
seemed so much more horrifying
in the wee dark genesis hours
of the early morning
in the middle
of the world’s wettest desert.


Some Thoughts on a Drunk Afternoon

Hood’s: It’s been a while since I’ve written. Sitting here with a Bacardi and 7-Up (boo), Hood, Paine, Larkin, and Thorsen passed out on the floor; Townsend upstairs talking to Thorsen’s girlfriend, and I don’t know where Micky-Reed is— everybody just kind’ve here but not really.


It strikes me how much we are like the X-Men in that same dark way. We stand on the edge of something and risk our lives for I don’t know what and all the time we try to pretend that we’re no different and nothing’s changed; we go on keeping it inside and lying to ourselves.


Other people don’t understand us unless they’ve been there and most the time I don’t think that we even understand ourselves— we’re all in the dark stumbling after will ‘o wisps trying to find something to hold on to, not even finding each other.


Sometimes you hate the rest of society (parents, friends, loved ones) for not understanding, most the time you hate the system for everything and yourself for even being there and sometimes you just feel like fading away and disappearing over the high side— drowning yourself in alcohol, sex, drugs, whatever, just falling into the shadows and not coming back.


It probably sounds escapist and the military is not entirely to blame really— everybody shouts questions into the great unknown and hears only silence, but the military tends to increase the frequency of the shouting and the magnitude of the silence. We all come away from it wiser but emptier, having grown but found more questions than we did answers.


It takes a strange breed to go on like that, chasing the dark, and I don’t even like or respect most of them. But in the end, there isn’t a one of them I wouldn’t die for if it came down to that, just because they were there and that makes all the difference.


The Tower at San Tropez

We moved with an uncanny ease
into the night
Sabertooth and I.
Each puddle of streetlight
a sanctuary
we did not
want
the gray clouds
racing low overhead
a subtle kind of
Winter’s insanity
that bent the mind
and stole your tears…
one by one.
And somewhere along the way
to San Tropez
the difference between Life
and Death
blood and breath
melted with the
dirty brown snow
beneath our feet—
(the road goes on forever)


Pierre Namuriel

The haze-gray hulks
sat sullenly
against a blue Atlantic sky
bows pointing seaward
bridge windows staring vacantly
across the rolling green expanse
to another world
another time.
A seagull
wheeled overhead
drifting in the heat
testing the heavy, humid spring breezes
with outstretched wingtips;
and in a small park
on the French Riviera
an unknown guitarist
is setting up his
two speakers and waa-waa pedals
getting ready
for another night
of prostituting his heart
and soul (love)
for the passing rich
who will stop for a moment
as a tune catches
a childhood memory
and spins it in the light.
But the music sails this way
across the sea
carried on shinning ships
of setting sun
a millions miles away…
I stop
things forgotten
resurfacing
carried by an inner tide
and for a moment
the air shimmers and sparkles
the ships move
alive
and I am somewhere
very far away
from Charleston, South Carolina
sitting in the grass
under a tree by
a small fountain
soaking in the chords
like the sun
with closed eyes
swaying gently
to a musical breeze
that blows through the soul.


Bad Company

Remember…
when all has set
and faded away
there still remains the one thing that matters!!
Tonight I walked,
there was trees—
trees that took me into a darkness,
a darkness that was like heaven—
that people think about
when they think or are walking—
beautiful palms
I think there were ferns.
And there I laid my head to rest,
in the forest of forgetfulness.
Tonight I have seen women beautiful and wanton
and I wonder
if any of them, if anybody
understands me.
And the dance floor whirls about
just so.
I feel sorry for the dancers?
How much is sincere,
how much fake?
Left on the dance floor
I don’t really know
‘cause I’d take anyone of them
and run away forever.
But I guess that just makes me
Bad Company,
Crazy Drunk,
so…that’s how it is.


Why OBAs Suck: Musings After a Day of FF Training

Two or three weeks ago I went to Shipboard Firefighting Training for the first time. After half a day of classroom refresher we went out to the firefighting field were we would be fighting two fires: a class alpha and a class bravo. I was an auxiliary hoseman on hose #2 so I didn’t even go into the bunker/space for the first fire. Larkin was on the hose in front of me.


Actually though, I’m getting ahead of myself. We began by standing on a line with all our gear in front of us. We were then timed in putting it on and checked for errors; five minutes or less was the target with investigators in three. The firefighting ensemble (FFE) consists of one fire-retardant snowmobile-looking suit, rubber steel-shanked boots, flash hood, gloves, OBA pack and face piece, and helmet. I was dressed out in three and a half to four minutes, no biggie. They checked us for hits and I was squared away. We then proceeded over to our hoses, busted them out and hooked them up, and then lit off our OBAs. I had put the damn things on before but had never actually had to use one. The oxygen was alright and cool, no problem.


Hose-team #2 sat outside while team #1 put out the first fire and then we moved into position to attack the second one— this is where things started going bad, at least for me.


The bunker in which they lit the fire for us to fight was concrete and you had to go up two or three steel steps to get to the entrance WTD and then stairs went down some six feet or so into the bunker. I was standing at the bottom of the steps outside, tending the hose, not even in the space, when the hose kinked up behind me. I made the mistake of slow-jogging down to the kink to straighten it out and then back to my spot behind Larkin as we moved up the steps to the door.


All the shit I was wearing was heavy and very hot and the hose was heavy and suddenly I found myself with less oxygen than my body wanted, a lot less— the jogging had been a very bad idea. I stood there hyperventilating, trying to get a full breath, sucking rubber, the hyperventilating only making the whole thing worse. I wondered if I was getting any oxygen at all. The OBA is not a demand-regulated system like a SCUBA unit but produces oxygen at a standard, consistent rate, regardless of how much you might need; and if you need more than it’s producing you are just shit outta luck.


I started to panic. I wanted to run away from the fire and the hose and rip my face piece off so I could breath but the thought of the embarrassment of falling out and not even being near the fucking fire kept me from doing it. I’d like to think that it was discipline but I was acutely aware of hose-team #1 watching us and the fear of embarrassment was greater than my panic and fear of suffocating. I was really struggling to stay rational. My eyes were huge with terror and I stared at some dude on the steps, I don’t know who, probably an instructor, hoping that he’d help me out— no such luck.


Somehow I managed to get my breathing under control and moved up to just inside the door where the on scene leader stopped me and told me to stay there— thank god. At that point I wasn’t really interested in getting any nearer the fire. I managed to catch my breath, watching the rest of the team spraying the flames everywhere with water. A couple minutes later I had to move the hose again and it all started all over again but this time I was able to calm myself down a little quicker. And then we were done, I had survived.


Until that day I’d never known what honest-to-god, full-blown panic felt like. I can’t say that it was something that I enjoyed though it was one of the newest, most virgin experiences I’ve had in the Navy. I mean, no matter how strange, everything I’d done was vaguely similar to something I’d already done, but full-on physical panic, nothing comes close or will prepare you for it. And as soon as it was over I wanted to talk about it ‘cause I’d never experienced anything like it.


You want to make a man panic, fuck with his oxygen. OBAs suck.


How I Came to be Doing Certain Illegal Things in the Caribbean

The Owl and the Pussycat
sailed Caribbean way
for a moment and a day
in a beautiful haze-gray rust bucket.
They took some flack jackets,
plenty of bullets,
and some Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
They dined on the most vile
and disgusting Sea fare
and two percent lean ground beef
then threw it back up
on an empty stomach
and wiped their mouths on their cuffs
their cuffs,
then wiped their mouths on their cuffs.
The Owl gazed at a star
and strummed a small guitar
and sang with a voice most concerned,
“Oh Pussy my dear,
my charts are not here
how I wish I knew where we are
we are
how I wish I knew where we are.”
They drifted astray
and ran aground one day
in the land where the marijuana trees grow
and there in the woods
the natives all stood
with rings in their tits and their noses
their noses
with rings in their tits and their noses.
They stamped about
and hooted and hollered
and chanted political slogans:
“You pussy so foul
you damndable owl
we think we shall have you for chow
for chow
we think we shall have you for chow.”
Pussy was quite frightened
and shivered and shook
and gave a terrible sigh
but the Owl said, “Don’t fear
for this my dear
we have an adequate weapon
a weapon
for this we have an adequate weapon.”
So they loaded their boat
with all the rum they could carry
and sailed for Washington D.C.
where they asked the president
who never inhaled
to cut off their economic aid
their aid
to cut of their economic aid.
“They’re communist,
and fascist,
a global threat
and generally very ill tempered.
Oh please do something
won’t you please do something please?”
the Owl and the Pussycat whimpered.
“I’ll bomb them by god
and napalm them too
and hit them with every plague.
And to top it all off,
I won’t let them enlist
unless they can prove that their gay
their gay
unless they can prove that their gay.”
“Oh president my dear,”
the Pussy did cry,
“what a president you are.
Your name will go down in history.
But we must be right off
to plan the air strikes
and then we’ll hit Panama City
city
and then we’ll hit Panama City.”
The S.A.C. bombers took off
while the natives smoked
smoked up their marijuana.
But the bombs did rain
with a terrible scream
and now all that’s left are iguanas
iguanas
now all that’s left are iguanas.
Now there’s a lesson in this
though I sometimes forget,
you see, it’s a short term memory thing
that comes from plants
and chemical groups
the government says you ought not be liking
liking
the government says you ought not be liking.
So when Uncle Sam comes a-knocking
with freedom of speech
and the right of self-determination
you’d better right say,
“I’m sorry, not today,
you see, I can’t afford the installation
the installation
you see, I can’t afford the installation.


Contrary to what you might believe, this last poem is not recounting my drug exploits in the Caribbean—sadly or otherwise, there are none to recount— but something similar but different. We had been back in Charleston from our six-month deployment only a month when word came down the pike that the Old Man had volunteered us all to get back underway for counter-narc ops in the Caribbean. As you might imagine, this did not sit too well with the rest of the crew, who were suddenly quite irate to be included in any scheme the old man came up with in order to try to secure himself a star, especially so soon after the cruise and during the holidays. I dealt with the whole thing the best I could by buying a Penn rod and reel, as much 80lb test line as I could fit on the spool (a 3 ought), some lures, and the Jimmy Buffet boxed set. I wrote the original version about oh five hundred while on starboard lookout, squinting in the dark and scribbling in my green wheel book with a dull pencil. I just could not understand where we received the right to interdict other ships that were in international waters; regardless of the flag we were flying (Navy or Coastie). To this day I still don’t. By the way, Coastie intel is the worst I’ve ever seen. We spent about three months total down there over several trips and all we had to show for it was the fish I almost landed but lost because we sped up to chase another boat with no drugs on board.


Strange Time in Port and Out

We pulled pierside in Charleston, once again, and everyone scurried off the ship as fast as they could, like rats abandoning a sinking ship. You could smell Charleston seven miles out, at least.


And once again, it seems like we’ve been away forever, though only half a day. One of these days maybe I’ll figure out why time is so screwy underway. Almost immediately I find myself slipping into that same in-port-Charleston routine— a subtle kind of winter insanity…I think I’m dying here. A comfortable dis-ease, if I stop moving, hesitate, I’ll freeze up and sink like a rock.


Pulling in Late on a Snowy January Night

It’s snowing up topside; little specks of gray-white whipped willy-nilly by the cutting wind. It’s late, 2230, and we’re pulling into Charleston, home. You can see the lights off in the distance, some eight miles away; fuzzy, white-orange and red, blinking radio towers. When visible, the stars are still bright and crisp, Orion briefly hanging overhead, belt cinched up and bow held tightly, then disappearing behind the clouds again.


The two tugs pull up alongside, one on each side, about thirty feet off each beam. Deep, sandy, red, varnished wood sides— the Robert and Christopher B. Turacamo— chug quietly alongside us, there wakes intermingling with ours. It’s reassuring to have them here, in case anything goes wrong. We’re not even to the break yet and they usually don’t hook up with us until we’re about two miles up the Cooper River. But they came all the way out tonight ‘cause it’s late and cold and I feel a little warmer, safer.


The sea is a funny/strange place and the people who travel her little funnier maybe. But there’s a bond between those kind of men, because deep down we all know that the sea is nobody’s friend and if she decides to prove that to you on a cold January night your only friend may be some stranger who’s “funny” enough to leave the warmth of his home and family to meet you beyond the break so that you can get home too.


I don’t know how to put it into words and I’m not even sure if you can. But anyone who’s spent time on the Big Pond will know what I mean and I guess I’ll have to let it go at that.


An hour and a half later the bridge passed the word, “Over all lines,” and we began to feed out line one, a six inch diameter, synthetic monster. Amid the calls, yelling, and squeaking of the line as tension began to be applied, faceless, unknown seamen ran to cast the two, now forgotten, tugs off; and they slowly chugged off, disappearing back into the cold and dark— angels on the water— until next time.


Dream Time

Roughly a month till Christmas
and it doesn’t seem like it,
feel like it;
even Charleston feels out of reach.
The Sea has its own time
plays with it
and the days all melt into each other
like a sticky candy bar
dropped on the sidewalk.
And their neither was
nor wasn’t
a time before being at Sea
and there will
and won’t be
a time after it.
At night,
you dream about Charleston
and everything back there.
But when you awake,
that’s all they are—
dreams.
But mostly,
you just dream about the Sea
with its wet, blue lapping swells
and try to remember
if it’s yesterday
or tomorrow.


Christmas Arrival

The sky was low and gray, cold, threatening rain as we pulled up the Charleston River. Seagulls dipped and dived in front of us; there were no dolphins. The tugs pushed us alongside Pier November as the wives, relatives, and kids sang Christmas carols outside the gate.


Larkin shouted, “Up behind,” and we gave as mighty yell as we rushed up with line one in hand. We bird-nested the line around the bits and then went below to change out of our blues to frap and rat the lines on the pier. And then we all disappeared, “Merry Christmas’s” and “happy holidays” echoing hollowly and fading as we melted into the mist until there was nothing left but the seagulls, huddled together around the brow in the piss-cold rain.


Lloyd and I would spend Christmas night drinking malt liquor and Mad Dog out of brown paper bags in the bus stop just outside the main gate after the MPs ran us out of the base park. Later I would throw up in the garbage can in the berthing; the holidays aboard a ship.


December Sea

And even the wind seems old
the breeze chill
and the Ocean creaks with age
at each rolling swell.
Autumn.
The horizon furthers off
my legs weary quickly
as the waves burn
a fiery-orange-red
I find my thoughts turning to
hot chocolate and cheery fireplaces…
Autumn into winter
Winter into me.


Brer Seaman Outsmarts Duty OPS

It was always easy to get screwed, even for things that weren’t your fault.


It was a duty day during Christmas stand-down; after evening colors. Only the duty section was left in berthing as everyone else was on leave or out getting drunk, per the plan of the day. At this point, we were heavily invested in Mortal Kombat II on the Sega Genesis when the duty OPS, some uppity OS, sidles down to tell us we need to wax our P-ways. He has got to be fucking kidding, as there were already eight whole hours in the day that we could have been doing this, as we weren’t doing much else, being stand-down and all.


The main deck of the Turner had two P-way’s running port and starboard the entire length of the ship. Just fore of the forward missile house, a short P-way connect the two. The forward portion of the port and starboard P-ways were the responsibility of OD division with the connector belonging to the gunners mates (GMs).


The GMs, who never did a fucking thing aboard ship, except rotate the forward magazines when we were trying to sleep, had about the shiniest P-way on the boat. Did they think we were going to bring ours up to par with theirs? Let’s not even talk foot traffic at this point.


Hopping mad at this bullshit, I quickly hit on how to solve this problem with the least amount of effort and directed another seaman to fill up a mop bucket with hot water while I ran up to the Bosn’s Locker for some stripper (not a stripper). We quickly proceeded to run hot water and wax stripper all over the GM’s P-way before shortly returning to Mortal Kombat II and TBS’s Christmas marathon of a Christmas Story. Although we hadn’t touched our P-ways, it looked just as good as the GM’s and there was peace in the world.


I learned that stand-down evening that the truth is all about perception.


Killer Angels

The sun beat down
my mind an evaporating
drop of dew
in a saltwater wasteland of souls.
The Angels,
beautiful and terrible to behold
stood on the foc’le
and bragged about last nights whores
as the fool moon
fell on balmy tropical breezes.
America’s Cattle Bruiser—
five hundred and thirty-five feet of iron-shod,
steel-riveted, steam-driven
missile-toten’ hell;
the free world’s last bastion of hope…
or so we said.
We rode the night,
all of them,
peering through the red-tinted gloom,
eyes mad
with rampant alcoholism and hatred
for our self-imposed
exile,
home, and friends.
We cursed the darkness in ourselves
with gnashing teeth
the uncertainty inside
eating into our sleepless days and nights.
But mostly
we cursed the ‘Old Man’—
a senile Satan
in his floating hell.
Angels of Death
Death of Angels
we raised anchor once again
that morning
and headed into the rising sun
we preyed so desperately to see
on the other side
of tomorrow.

*****

There was no CNN, satellite TV, Sirius radio, email or anything on the Turner that would be on later ships. When you got underway and whatever land you were leaving disappeared over the horizon behind you, the rest of the world fell away with it and you slipped into a place of no time where the days all melted into one. But you always knew when it was Wednesday and Thursday. Every Wednesday they served rollers and sliders for lunch, so you knew it was Wednesday. The next day, you could remember that yesterday was Wednesday so it must be Thursday. After that it was back into the seamless, dayless days of routine life on a ship at sea.


Sailing the Abyss

You worked with men who understood
something about isolation—
because in one way or another
every man on the ship
was alone.
The Ocean
was a daily reminder
of just how cut off you were.
I think the only men
who could possibly feel more alone
are astronauts.
There was a freedom
in that isolation though,
a falling away
of the countless minutia
that made up a life,
an existence on land.
The act of “Taking in all lines”
was a cleansing, a purifying
of the soul
that was in essence, a rebirth,
the crossing of a threshold
into a place where the silent Sea
was at once
your antagonist, savior, confessor, and dreamer
and the Ship was that Great Mother
that Safety and Assurance
that held you securely

in the eye of the Tempest,
in the darkness of the Void.


I’ve figured out (after only one week) that the enlisted man’s job is to be happy whenever he talks to an officer so the officer feels that everything is well and that he’s doing a good job. Also, occasionally, the enlisted man should have some small, easily solved problem that he can take to an officer for the same reason.


The one thing I’ve learned in the Navy is: No matter where you go, as long as you have a pen and a pocketknife you’ll be okay.


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