At A Sailors' Tavern In Tarshish

[after Seraphim's poem, "Haiku And Hokku," part III]


(a young tavern maid, loquitor)


At the noisy, crowded waterfront,

the ship from Joppa slipped into its berth---

with neither noise nor gaudy display.

Assyrian warships asserted political presence;

heavy-laden freighters asserted commercial profit.

But the morning's usual sounds were quietly muted.

Muscular, sun-conditioned men unloaded the wares
of the ship from Joppa without saying much---

no wagers on what cargo would be marked up;

no names of their favorite whores or drinks;

no boasting of wages---"I can buy more girls than you."
These men of the ship from Joppa were curiously silent,

grunting under heavy crates and bales,

but speaking little more than directions of transit.

("Where do you want me to stick this?"  "See if you can guess.")

When they finally walked into the tavern,

they seemed like men entirely exhausted,

in flight from something, seeking the shelter
of forgetfulness, not mere inebriation.

I cozied up to the vessel's master:
they told me he liked the young stuff best.

I bared my curvy, adolescent breasts to him---

barefoot and bare from the waist up

(the way I knew he liked it best):
oh, he stared at my girls, but he was really

looking past them, looking past disembarkation,

looking back to the sea, and some incident his ship had left there.

"The sea wrought against us, and was temptestuous,"

he said later---when we were, as you might call it, alone;

but not really alone, something was in there with us.

"I think he was called Jonah, asserted as a prophet.
"The sea was wroth; we had to toss him over the rail.
"We prayed to his God, Who sent us safely to Tarshish.
"I have made certain vows."  Then he fell asleep,
depriving himself of the use of my privates---

which I had offered to him without reservation or preference.


I could not sleep through the night after that.
Instead, on my side, my back turned to him as he snored,
I listened to the cries of girls in the other rooms;

to the pleas of beggars, asking alms in the street;

to the curses of brawlers, beating each other into masculine proof.
And beyond all that, in the subtle sound of the sea's waves,
I imagined (surely I did not really hear)

the reverberating echoes and crashes of a turbulent, incredible storm.


Neither he nor his crew of burly, now introspective,  men---

once delightedly vulgar, but now restrained in speech and gesture:


neither he nor his once fearless, voyaging men

went near the sea or sailed another vessel again.



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