Drunken Boat with Rimbaud
From Things that Happen When Reading Rilke
I fill my hip-flask with rum and, although the red warning lights are flashing in the port, I don’t give a damn. I must go out. Storms awaken the drowned sailor in me.
My boat has been gathering barnacles on the quayside since I started reading Rilke. The seepage from the hull is wine blue, peppered with what looks like the curry of late night drinkers. I don’t need to bale - it’s resin hard. Attaching a rope to the helm, and around my waist, I chug off. A fisherman in yellow oilskins sorting his nets stands up and guffaws.
I furrow past seagulls sheltering on receding slats of choppy water. Wind-whipped spume skims the surface. I’m ready to face the overlapping white horses, and wave goodbye to the town, scintillating in blood-red, auguring disasters. At the mouth of the harbour the fanglike rocks look disappointed, as though expecting to wreck an armada , not a dingy with an engine below the power that needs a permit.
storm is my navigator. I dance along, light as a cork, on the rolling waves
that old salts call dead men. Nobody is laughing now, I think. Drenched by
the spray, speckled violet by the low sun, I’m part of an ancient drama.
The only thing that’s missing is a siren on the bow.
Once past the jetty, my course is staggered by the surging open sea, spouting monsters, and I see things that men have only read about. A phantasmagoria of incredible Floridas, tagging me with foaming flowers that tattoo the skin with the eyes of panthers. I put up a short sail to tack starboard. The boat steadies, buffeting the waves like a drunken sailor, going forward sideways. On the horizon, rainbows like bridles ride the glaucous flocks of sunken cloud.
I lurch along the coast to the Moorish creek. It’s sheltered by high cliffs and a narrow inlet. I drift into the tangled tresses of seaweed. The swell ripples pearl. I drop anchor. The chain-pulley cranks. I’m scraping the bottom where can be imagined shipwrecks stripped to a skeleton are horror-strewn with strapping snakes, rotten with vermin, falling from twisted trees. I smell the black of deadwood.
I lower the ladder for a swim, a giant rubber boat arrives at speed, and
pulls up at my stern. It’s packed with
plungers wearing frogmen suits. It being high summer, there is a preponderance
of novices, family groups with children, squealing exhilaration, not knowing
what they’ve got themselves into.
I’m thrown back into what was left behind years ago. The ramparts of citadels and their deep moats groaning with a turgid maelstrom, the moiling creatures that make up the crowd. In burning Julys, I walk that tow-bridge, escorted by ebony sea-horses, hoping to be funnelled up into the ultramarine skies. But the spiralling siphon is only a heat mirage.
the shame-faced sky offers me sparkling lichens of sunlight tainted with
mucous green. I lift anchor, a cumbersome manoeuvre. But annoyance at
having to move brings out the hypocrite’s virtue in me (‘They have as much
right…’). The chains rudely contradict
my tolerance, but nobody is listening.
By the time my boat is free, the first rosary beads of plungers are in the water adjusting their oxygen cylinders and out-shrieking the gulls. I drift to the other side of the creek where, as I unroll the chains again, a man in a long black wind-assisted raincoat appear on the rocks with two salt and pepper Alsatians, straining at the lease. He carries a fishing rod that looks like a broken umbrella. The dogs bark furiously at me. They are close enough to harvest the spit from their canines.
I jump into the water, reducing the dogs to a faint muffle. The deep sea world is a children’s comic. Little fishes so distinct in colour that the spectrum is exhausted at a glance. A silver bream noses me, and is off at a flash. Sea-anemones sprout from my anchor, the wind-flower swaying as though blessing my legs into wings. I float in archipelagos of starfish and mossy clumps until I come face to face with the plungers, mostly leggings and equipment. I’m bloated with their desperate bubbles and, not wishing to share water with them, I sing the body electric, and surface.
think of a cold, black pond where a child, full of sadness, slumps, having
lost his toy yacht, fragile as a butterfly in May. I would have liked to
show the neophyte plungers dolphins, those golden, singing fish of the blue
wave, but not today. I hear the instructors barking at them being barked at
by the dogs. The wind has abated so the harsh tones cut the air, echoing one
another, a losing battle.
Scrambling back into the boat, I start up, and escape the drag of the haunted hulks, and the leer of the black inflatable with its motley flags. Against a sky of red-hot coals, with a singed moon making a hurt appearance, I bask in the languor of the cradling swell. Leaving the drowned men asleep in the frayed cordage of my wake, I return to port. As I tie up the boat, the party in oilskins gives me a wave.
Back on shore, I hear a sloshing sound in my pocket. I had forgotten my hip-flask.
In the concave surface of its stainless steel my reflection is a death-mask.