middle-watch

© Simon Oosting
Hûnewacht (Afûk, 2012)
Translation: Sara Butler
For the Frisian original, click here

rise

I wait for the eight strokes in the passageway
full of light and warmth since outside at the helm
is cold and a northern storm will come they say

on pegs jutting out of the wall of steel
the coats hang of those who went
through the door and did not return

I take an old captain’s coat
the smell coarse cotton
the scratching canvas

the bell sounds the watch begins
I go on deck and the helmsman
a moment I see the light

on his pale face his hollow eyes
he wishes me a good watch
keep to this course

and away and closed the door
the dark
the helm

 

the first bell

the reflection of the fragile light
fades on portside under gathering clouds
I hear the breath of a bird that wonders
whether to ride with the invisible wave
that later must break raging on a shore
or to stay
the clouds build a hall and the night catches
fish that fly and stars falling out of the Pleiades
flashes light the hall the wind sings
with the early thunder gods

 

the second bell

and rain strikes
rivers on the roof the same rain
that once laid bare a mobile telephone
that was buried in the chilly clay in the screen
the eye reflected but the inside was full of fine droplets

 

the third bell

salt water bites into deep wounds
and lays the ship’s cat dead
the stealthy scuttling of rats
is already rising above the wind

 

the fourth bell

the eye of the storm
without motion
the water here stinks
seaweed that in the black fog
has lain to rot for weeks

 

the fifth bell

the gods gathered in the hall of clouds are invisible
in the dark they throw eggs and stones and fire skims
like a flat stone over the water
like it was at the sea dikes and the banks of rivers
it lasts the half hour they fight and rage bewilder the heavens
and then it’s suddenly quiet
the word is spoken

I shut it out and grab an empty bottle and throw it at the fish
and I get eggs and throw the egg whites and the yolks the horrifying eggs
at the all-seeing eyes
eggs that feed muscles and eyes but eyes too break down
into thousands of cells that grow and grow

 

the sixth bell

with a crack the ship’s skin cries out
full of pain for a drowned shipping container
or for a dead whale but the ship isn’t damaged
in the pitch dark everything floats past in fragments it’s there
in my memory I reconstruct the being that I saw
not mist but the old captain with sunken cheeks and white hair
he sailed past waving on a drowned shipping container

 

the seventh bell (faint strains of a voice)

is it you boy you look like me
in that old coat you’re wearing
it’s amazing that I am floating here
……………………………………………………….
……………………………………………that you can hear me
……………………………………………………………………………….
sailing on a ship or sitting at a table on Sunday
and knowing that you’ll be going to the factory on Monday morning
is the same we are medicine men with a chest full of herbal plants
and fire that scorches our house can’t harm us
or you either it remains our house
…………………………………………………………………………………………
be the man they are waiting for
………………………………………………………………………………………….
I sail to the transparent fish in the shallow water the bay
…………………………………………………….salt no longer in the wounds

 

the eighth bell

again the rain strikes my face the winds get stronger
a bottle for the fish an egg for the eye
again I am the man they are waiting for

though we can’t stay on course and the bow heads into the wind
and we sail through water snakes
and the clouds illuminated from beneath get
bony legs and red-raging mouths
I hear voices that speak the sound
is amplified and once again I hear the name of the one
whose old coat I’m wearing

I stoke the fire of factories against the storm
I strike with the sword forged from the blades of skates
and I overcome now the storm dies down

the watch comes to an end and dawn

nears with a moon of glass

to a boy with deep-blue eyes I hand the watch over
nothing untoward keep to this course

the coat
my coat