Beneath it is all dark and wave-muffled
in these broken stories of
battles below the waterline in
the war before the war that was still visible in the
shaken eyes of anyone who seemed to us old but
even we knew he’d been too long in
the baffle zone behind time.
And besides a stroke had jellied his tongue
his slow words were waves
full of stones either fog quiet or foghorn
and louder even was the wrestling always on
in the corner black and white animal grunts of fighting men.
I’m so short in my heavy seat my nose is
near the chenille cloth the smell is
dusky polish and years of tea
the table a deep green sea between us.
The Outer Jade Road has
salt and pepper pots
moving as destroyers above and
cutlery is laid out as Scapa Flow.
There was coughing at diesel and salt rain
and a fire they were trapped behind
flames in a steel whale deep in the
cold open sea and then there
was a U-boat captured to protect our fishing.
We still have the brass binoculars of the captain
Zeiss lenses tuned to an astigmatism.
His voice rose up he had tears
he had tapped a seam of molten fear
that we had not he must
hand this on but too young we could not
decode the signals from his time dive
could not tell him aye aye
but we hold the prisoner’s eyes a salt-pot gunship
the risen voice and the choking fire
to pass on.