[from Ciaran Carson's First Language, Wake Forest, 1994]
After Rimbaud, Le Bateau Ivre
As I glided down the lazy Meuse, I felt my punters had gone
In fact, Arapahoes had captured them for target practice,
nailing them to stakes. Oh hell,
I didn't give a damn. I didn't want a crew, nor loads of Belgium
wheat, nor English cotton.
When the whoops and hollers died away, their jobs were well
Through the tug and zip of tides, more brain-deaf than an
embryo, I bobbled;
Peninsulas, unmoored and islanded, were envious of my
Storms presided at my maritime awakening. Like a cork I
waltzed across the waves,
Which some call sailors' graveyards; but I despised their
far-off, lighted enclaves.
As children think sour apples to be sweet, so the green sap
swamped the planks
And washed away the rotgut and the puke, the rudder and the
I've been immersed, since then, in Sea Poetry, anthologized by
As through the greenish Milky Way a corpse drifts down-
wards, clutching a corrupted spar;
When suddenly, those sapphire blues are purpled by Love's
rusty red. No lyric
Alcohol, no Harp, can combat it, this slowly-pulsing, twilit
I've known lightning, spouts, and undertows, maelstrom
evenings that merge into Aurora's
Blossoming of doves. I've seen the Real Thing; others only get
I've seen the sun's demise, where seas unroll like violet,
Venetian blinds; dim spotlight, slatted by the backstage work
of Ancient Greeks.
I dreamed the green, snow-dazzled night had risen up to kiss
Blue-yellow gaze, the million plankton eyes of phosphor-
I followed then, for many months, the mad-cow waves of the
Oblivious to the Gospel of how Jesus calmed the waters,
walking on his tippy-toes.
I bumped, you know, into the Floridas, incredible with
And manatees, which panther-men had reined with rainbows
and with Special Powers.
I saw a whole Leviathan rot slowly in the seething marsh, till
All grot and whalebone. Blind cataracts lurched into
oubliettes, and were becalmed.
Glaciers and argent seas, pearly waves and firecoal skies! A
Hauled up from the Gulf, all black-perfumed and slabbered
with a monster's verbiage!
I would have liked the children to have seen them: goldfish,
singing-fish, John Dorys --
My unanchored ones, I'm cradled by the tidal flowers and
lifted near to Paradise.
Sometimes, fed-up with the Poles and Zones, the sea would
give a briny sob and ease
Off me; show me, then, her vented shadow-flowers, and I'd be
like a woman on her knees. . . .
Peninsular, I juggled on my decks with mocking-birds and
And rambled on, until my frail lines caught another upside-
down, a drowned Australian.
Now see me, snarled-up in the reefs of bladder-wrack, or
thrown by the waterspout like craps
Into the birdless Aether, where Royal Navy men would slag
my sea-drunk corpse --
Smoking, languorous in foggy violet, I breathed a fireglow
The sky, whose azure trails of snot are snaffled by some Poets
as an entree --
Electromagnets, hoof-shaped and dynamic, drove the
Nautilus. Black hippocampuses
Escorted it, while heat-waves drummed and blattered on the
Me, I shivered: fifty leagues away, I heard the bumbling
Behemoths and Scarabs;
Spider spinning in the emerald, I've drifted off the ancient
parapets of Europe!
Sidereal archipelagoes I saw! Island skies, who madly
welcomed the explorer;
O million starry birds, are these the endless nights you dream
of for the Future?
I've whinged enough. Every dawn is desperate, ever bitter
sun. The moon's atrocious.
Let the keel split now, let me go down! For I am bloated, and
the boat is stotious.
Had I some European water, it would be that cold, black
Where a child once launched a paper boat -- frail butterfly --
into the dusk; and huddled
There, I am no more. O waves, you've bathed and cradled me
Me. I'll gaze no more at Blue Ensigns, nor merchantmen, nor
the drawn blinds of prison-ships.
First Language: Poems