Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

A Necklace for the Goddess of the Empty Sea

After years in the desert, when he reached the empty sea,
he knelt in the sand and prayed to the rusted ships
bobbing lifeless on the shimmering black waves.
Syringes and glass glistened in the sand like ruined stars.

He knelt in the sand and prayed to the rusted ships.
In the grimy brownlight of evening, he collected treasures:
syringes and glass glistened in the sand like ruined stars.
From these bones of the past, he made her a necklace.

In the grimy brownlight of evening, he collected treasures;
he found bits of plastic and driftwood poisoned with tar.
From these bones of the past, he made her a necklace.
Imagining her beautiful again, he sang like the birds of legend.

He found bits of plastic and driftwood poisoned with tar
bobbing lifeless on the shimmering black waves.
Imagining her beautiful again, he sang like the birds of legend
after years in the desert, when he reached the empty sea.

—

This is for Big Tent Poetry’s weekly prompt. The form is called pantoum, and this is my first crack at one. I liked the repetitive spiraling nature of the form, which seemed an interesting fit for another of my post-apocalypse myths and legends poems (for want of a better term), though, I suspect pantoums are best kept short. The idea was to write in form about something that makes us angry so there’s some BP oil spill in this as well as a little bit of influence spilling over from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. Using form to tame emotion is a good idea, I think. I’ve tried to write about the BP spill, but its hard to maintain control. Form helps. So does 3rd person narrative and walking so far down the chain of effects that I’m in a different world by the time I begin to write.

—

Just for grins, I de-pantoumified (de-pantsed?) it . It’s easier for me to follow this way since I can get lost in all that repetition, but it loses that legend-y vibe, I think.:

After years in the desert
when he reached the empty sea,
he knelt in the sand
and prayed to the rusted ships
bobbing lifeless on the shimmering
black waves. Syringes and glass
glistened in the sand
like ruined stars. In the grimy
brownlight of evening, he collected
treasures. He found bits of plastic
and driftwood poisoned with tar.
From these bones of the past,
he made her a necklace.
Imagining her beautiful again,
he sang like the birds of legend.

22 Comments

  1. I like the second version better, but a compelling piece either way.

    • Thanks, Dave. I go back and forth between them. That’s probably why it’s a good idea to let a piece cool for awhile before deciding what to do with it. Thanks for the smorgasblog link too.

  2. wow, that is interesting to see and read the two different forms… after reading thru yr post my initial reaction is i like the pantoum form….like what you sed it is best to use form to tame emotion… stirred up

    • Thanks. I never tried using it as a taming tool like that. It was Deb’s thought, actually. I think she mentioned it in the prompt. She’s right.

  3. I like the second version too. I know what you mean about getting lost, but the Pantoum, with it’s repetiton, demonstrates effectively how emotions haunt us.

    • I think the “getting lost” comes from the habit of skimming the repeated lines and not reading them closely. Thanks for your feedback.

  4. I like both versions, but the pantoum is my favorite – it has a rhythm and flow that feeds me.

  5. Hi James — Oh, I think your pantoum is so sad…but I felt more anger in the second free verse version. I prefer the pantoum, because I like this line, and I loved seeing it two times: “syringes and glass glistened in the sand like ruined stars.”

  6. it is interesting how that form changes the emotion of the same words — I guess it’s the repetition. it really does give this much more of a mythical quality. I think I like them both, stphen king and all.

    and I love “goddess of the empty sea” although it looks as if she’s soon to be “goddess of the fire-bombed sea.”

  7. James
    These are both wonderful and my favourite is the first. There is such sadness in that piece with the touch of reality.
    Pamela

  8. Both versions are very beautifully written and such deep sadness seeps from both. I am glad you included both works, and am quite astonished at how well you did with your first pantoum!

  9. I also like both versions, James. It certainly works. And there is a legendary sadness to it. Those syringes and glass make wonderfully ruined stars.

  10. I was smitten by the first one, and before reading your process notes knew it for a post-apocalyptic tale. When I read about your ships I thought about images I’d seen of big ships being dismantled by low-low-paid workers in third world countries. (BLDGBLOG ages ago.) So dismal, so poisonous. I think the third person and far-away view served you well.

    Beautiful poetry in spite of the horrible circumstance.

    The second is gorgeous, too. But I like the repetition, especially of the legendary birds and the stars.

    Thanks for playing along. I think it was an excellent experiment.

    • Thanks, Deb. Ships left to rust have always made me sad. I remember seeing them in Manila Bay when I was kid and they’ve always haunted me. I know what you’re talking about re: the ship breakers, especially in India. I read about that in The Outlaw Sea a truly unsettling account of the lack of real law on the high seas.

      Thanks for your comment and for the prompt. I almost didn’t do this one.

  11. Excellent pantoum, the repitition really works with the subject matter.

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