Variations on a Poem Read at My Mother's Funeral
I missed my boat. I arrived too late.
I sat on the quayside with an overnight bag.
I watched them sail on the ocean's brew – Old
Dougie-boy (that rogue) and his faithful men.
I waved and I shouted – Too late! Too late!
Shouted in truth not so bold or so loud
at the far-flung spray and the sea's green spume
content the wheel's kick had slipped them away.
Did I stand out of politeness, fear and shame
of what might be said by strangers and kin ?
The voyage to be taken was long and hard,
far, far beyond my own sea's net of wonder.
It was a journey not right for a man like me
whose senses tremble at the ocean's roar
whose feet always firm more on solid ground
whose face is marked by hours of lonely reflection.
But I didn't waste my time – oh no, not me!
I sat in the bar of the Mermaid Inn
with other old salts who had missed their boats
dreaming of the heave-to of the casting net.
We sat and we drank – sang ancient airs
feasted and supped, all alive in our jugs
and offered up a toast to the boat and the heart
of Old Dougie Boy and his whetted knife.
We drank for them all with our ale held high
those wild fellow rovers who catch the wind's song
to coin a few days upon a darkened sky
their loved ones left alone without a star to steer.
Our voices pierced the moon as we stumbled through the hours
casting bleary eyes at the grey breaking dawn
and we cawed when we saw them – a wild call of return –
standing on the quayside for Old Dougie and his men.
There was no ill feeling from those who missed their boats
as the plundered silver stirred like a dream;
silver that sparkled – it stole through the nets –
silver that had lain beyond the stomach of the sea.
And we drank and we drank and sang all as one
drew good friends close – drew some closer still –
warmed by our thoughts of the sea’s running tide
chilled by the long trick that leaves us all behind.