Before we existed, the ocean whispered unheard.
Oscillations of air and water, weather moving
noisily above, silence below, we living between,
surrounded by our own sounds. And after
we leave, the ocean continues to whisper.
Heavy the oar to him who’s tired,
lightened by the sunset over the harbor.
Heavy is the saltwatered, rain-watered oilcloth coat,
drying beside the sleeping sailor and fireplace.
Morning’s red sky and heavy the sea.
This morning, after a blue moon dream,
still floating in sleepy South Pacific waves
that cradled me to sleep and then
left me adrift and fearing the deep –
a white whale that ends your world.
When he died of a heart attack at the age of 72, his obituary in the local New York Times was just four lines.
“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” – Herman Melville
Portuguese man o’ war, floating terror, bluebottle,
with venomous tentacles delivering a painful sting.
Not common jellyfish, not single multicellular organism.
A colony of specialized minute individuals attached.
Well-armed surface sailor incapable of independent survival.
Here is a bit of background to accompany today’s little ronka poem. I was inspired by news reports of man o’ wars appearing in the ocean off New Jersey recently.
The name “man o’ war” comes from the man-of-war, an 18th-century armed sailing ship, which this creature resembles if you see a Portuguese version at full sail. Like a well-armed ship, they pack a punch with a sting that can last for about an hour after a human comes into contact with the marine cnidarian. People who are allergic to the species’ venom often need to be hospitalized.
Their appearance off NJ can be blamed on the Gulf Stream which took a sizable population of them that with a few days of strong northeasterly winds, pushed them on shore in New Jersey. A rare but not unheard of visitation.