The Wreck of the Faerie Queen

A Poem of a Wooden Ship in the Night

Photo: Yin Y-C

My stomach lurches

The cabin tilts alarmingly

Tossing my petty nicknacks across the floor

The deafening sound is the worst:

A fearful gale howls through the rigging topside

Raging, an escaped night-beast

Thrashing the sea into unlit walls that

Smash, one against the other, then slam

Into the Faerie Queene:

Shuddering blows, wanting to

Strip the barque’s lumber apart

Or, maybe it’s the darkness:

I touch my memory way past the tea chest

(miraculously upright)

There’s no light, all candles tipped over or snuffed

I feel for the door latch then

Get pitched away onto the sloping floor

Sliding to strike my head on the bunk

Fear of being caught in the tiny cabin

While above the ship fights with the storm

Energises me to get out, sore head or nay

I crabby crawl across the floor in the dark

Thunder bellows nearby—a god-felling din

I get to the latch as the cabin heels over

Wrench open the damp door and

Fall out into coils of wet rope

Feeling my way forward over rough timbers

(I hear not a soul but the storm)

To the short stairs

Every second the ship shakes with unseen blows

Seawater pours on me through

The hatch cover over the steps

For the first time I wonder if she’ll sink

(Me with it)

I shoulder open the hatch and squeeze onto the deck

In the nightmare maelstrom I’m immediately soaked

With bone-numbing seawater

A frightening lightening strike

And ear-buffeting thunder

Gives me a split-light time tableau of the sailors

Slipping and striving on the heaving wet deck

Grabbing onto any fixture

Forlornly struggling to reef in the ripped sails

Their wet white faces full of fear

I crawl to the rail and hold fast to belaying pins

Gaze out at where the ocean must be

Salt water drips into my eyes

All I see is a turmoil of giant grey shapes and

Darker waves chasing each other

Till they come together

Sending freezing spray to splatter

My stinging naked face

With a groan the ship tips up to starboard

I’m crushed into the port rail

Holding on for my life the deck plunges under the sea

My boots fill with water

Above the roaring squall I hear the crew shouting,

Their cries of distress and horror whip past me

I hold on while

The storm toys with the insignificant barque

I risk a look up

Black and flapping torn canvas is all I can see

Rigging tears loose, wooden spars and iron rings

Clatter onto the deck

The bow suddenly tips up

Sailors slide past in slow motion,

Their arms outstretched

Mouths and white eyes wide with panic.

I can do nothing for them in the bedlam

A piece of wood falls hard on my shoulder

The pain searing, unbearable

Numbs my arm

I hang on, but

Get thrown down as the Faerie Queene finally

Gouges its juddering pained way onto the rocks

A jagged reef

The ship mortally wounded sticks fast

My frozen limbs scramble back to the railing.

Over the storm’s raging noise

Unmistakable sounds of timbers being wrenched apart

(We are going straight to Davey Jones’s locker—

Wherever that may be)

Monstrous waves engulf the seaward side

Shoving the ship tighter into the reef’s grip

In a shattering lightening flash I see

The foremast crack, tumble over the side

Trailing rigging, rope and bits of canvas

I stare hard at the reef rocks below

Catch a glimpse of the glistening black stone

(I can swim a lame breaststroke if I must)

In the storm-gloom

More broken equipment slides over the deck and

Disappears into the hungry dark sea

The Captain I know, Arthur Robins,

I cast about in the awful chaos but there’s no sign of him

Only the ruinous deck, the endless tempest

The breaking and breaking of the barque apart

More spars and rigging falls next to me

The raven-black rocks seem inexorably nearer

Can I jump overboard? Cling to the reef?

I’ll be in the merciless ocean, just flotsam to be

Shattered against the sharp crags

A long tearing grinding noise:

The giant mainmast uproots, crashes over the side

Half held to the ship by its own lashings

(We are done for)

Holding my good arm over my head

I look across the deck to starboard

A brimming wave hangs high

Suspended for a moment above the ship

It blocks out the clouds, the lightening, all.

For a stretched second its foaming lip lingers

Then collapses on deck in an icy flood

I’m lifted up in the wave-water

Off the deck and washed away

Me overboard!

Upside down in the huge cold ocean

My clothes dragging me under

I don’t know which way is up

Fight to hold onto my breath

Brace my body and

Wait to be annihilated on the rocks

An eternity of tossing, swallowing seawater,

Struggling not to drown

My eyes closed

My body braced, then

My arms strike the reef

A stunning pain on my forearms,

I grasp onto a small rocky nub

A wave knocks me off

Swallowing brine and gasping

The ocean surges me into a cleft

Again I try to cling on, again I’m washed off

My arms and legs can’t swim forever

(Every second is a year)

In the bollocking sea

Holding air in my lungs

The sea-force pushes me under, then

Tosses me onto a hard gritty surface

I lie in a whirlpool of frothing cold for a moment

Then get flung through the air

A wave shoots me out like a cannon

Then thumps me down onto the sand

My precious air driven out of my chest

The next wave trimmed with silver sends me

Scudding across the sand

On all fours, my hands feel the granules

Every weathered micro-formed speck

I came I know I haven’t drowned

I drag my freezing body into the shallows

Broken pieces of wood swirl around

Endlessly tossed over until

I can truly stand

The pounding of the surf and

The crunching of the barque goes on

Into the ill-starred night

A half-drowned rat flees the Faerie Queene

I struggle up the steep beach

Away from the ocean

Its dreadful cold reach

And sprawl, a sodden mess on the sand:

My shivering body, soaking clothes and

Brine-filled lungs start coughing

I look about the night shore

Hear the roar of the surf and the storm

Delivering death-blows to the broken barque

I breathe in a breath, then another, my teeth chattering

By a mystery I’ve survived

Not moving, not breathing, not believing

I am alive

Stalking the Dark City

A Poem

Joey Banks – Unsplash (trimmed by author)

I leave my family abed

(Tucked in and cosy)

And slip outside into something more comfortable

The darkness shrouds my infernal mission

The night-fog feels hard ominous implacably

Black and obscuring: a dense layered veil

Hiding deeds and misdeeds, trust and betrayals fall

From the dark and yellow lamplit windows

I smooth down my ebony cloak

Step silently over the shiny black cobbles

Slide into the shadows of back lanes and alleys

I descend the hill of grim passages and trammelled tenements

A labyrinth of merciless droll

Under the cover of nacht und nebel

(Such evils befall the world)

My black glove runs lightly over thin steel handrails

Down step by step the alley defiles

Knowing every brick, paver and hole.

I descend.

In the distance moonlight touches the thicket of spars and masts

The ships moored dockside; the salty sea-smell of the grubby river

Permeates the bricks and masonry

Curls its miasma into the malodorous mist.

Gas lamps throw up muted halos

Inside their rusty coronas: balls of golden light

Perch atop fluted iron columns

I prop in a murky slot

With a view of the drinking house

(I haven’t decided yet, or cast a lot)

Boisterous shouting clanking swearing,

Ruination in their heads, rough loud boasts and

Boy-men broken up chatter

Carry through the candlelit windows

They argue their choppy banter till the barkeep bawls

Enough! Time!

Figures shamble out

Weave their ways this way and that

These drunken oafs

I reach out: hold their hearts, some plump young

Well-meaning, others shrunken ash cinders.

It’s the usual crowd of numbed older men and young bruisers

A pair hold each other, struggle up the hill

Pass by gabbing and wavering

I deglove and feel the cool instruments

Arrayed neat as bright pins inside my coat: these

Silvery instruments can split wide a sternum

Trepan a skull or slice and cut in a trice. Plus

Vials of sleep, paralysis ichor and draughts of delirium

(Sometimes I like to hunt in the forest of the city)

The two drunkards are gone awassailing

Their unintelligible shanties dying in the fog

I slip, an ephemeron, nearer the ale house

I know, but I don’t know

And stop. Waiting.

A figure steps out

Walks stolidly uphill

His gait is more or less sober

Face hidden beneath a short cap

His attention on the uneven coal cobbles

He is the one, he will do

I will be the doer

He walks left disappears down a blind alley

I softly turn out to follow

I think a short sharp killing tonight

And take a quick breath of the fetid air

(My heart would thump aloud if I had one)

I pluck out a short handled blade

His head bent and wide steps tell me—a sailor

He’s heavy with the briny water:

The stiff salt-spray, his hammock below decks,

Glum eyes inured to the cobalt flat ocean

I stealthily close on my unwary intended

He does not sense my baleful presence

So close I can smell his beer and tobacco

Our silhouettes merge

The stiletto drops into my glove

I remember to breathe, then

My right arm leans round him.

I cut the blade

Clean, across his pink throat from ear to ear

I hold his collar, knock off his cap

His heart’s life blood pours out

Dark red from the mortal cut

He tries to turn, paws at the wound

But I press him hard against the wall:

He glubs: “Why am I done?”

An upward sweep of the knife cuts the tip of his nose

Then an ear I slice off

His body starts to fold, his wet breath blows bubbles

I follow him down, whisper in his good ear:

“You’ve done nought enough,”

Or some-such ambiguity

He slides down the wall, bloodshot soaked torso

And wan face look up at me

What do his sightless eyes see?

The after-light image of an opaque blackguard,

A life-thieving felon

His eyes roll back and I replace his cap at a rakish angle

Wipe cooling blood from the blade on his unlovely coat

Stand above his crumpled body

Another corpse, another dead man to add to my tally

That grows by the scores,

He’s the hundredth… or four hundredth?

It doesn’t matter—I don’t keep a diary;

It’s no whim that makes me take lives.

“Needs must…”, a soft laugh to myself

Ball up my bloody gloves into a thick woollen purse

No blood-fleck speckles my black coat

My naked hands stand out too white

In this gloomy dead end

I hope he’s found soon, before rigor sets in

I sketch him a salute: I’ll be seeing you soon

At the autopsy in my morgue, where

More bright tempered grabbers, tearers and saws await

Lined up on white linen next to the tray

That drains dark ruined blood and bone-bits away

My boot sweeps his encrusted ear to the gutter

(Perhaps a needless cut)

But I can’t find the nose-tip

A tasty morsel for a prowling hound

I retrace my steps back uphill to my home.

I always sleep soundly after culling them.

Murdering men. Someone must do it,

The killing I mean, if not I then whom?

I slide between the cool starchy sheets

See my wife in the half light asleep on her pillow

Close my eyes, sleep the restful sleep of the sinister

I dream of Persephone

Her return from summer to my place underground,

Pay her fare to the ferryman

Sit amongst the dead voyagers

Cross over the Styx then alight

Stroke Cerberus’s three heads and enter the Gate.

I’ll be there waiting to embrace her

When winter comes