Letter from the U.S.S. Prairie

You can imagine why they call this ship a tender,
for tonight she is a gray nurse who moves
through wards of sleeping, turning waves. She hushes
the tired sailors who step out on her upper deck
to talk of land and light their cigarettes.

There is illness in this ocean. We are trailed by submarines.
Our ship goes quiet and dark, not wanting to disturb
whatever there might be that sleeps or waits in pain.
The ocean gives the faintest signs of life, and while
below the waves might pulse unfathomable sounds,
upon the water little shows except a wash of pale light
that glows up from the frantic scurrying of krill
or the deep set eyes of whales and giant squid.

One sailor told me how his ship, bound for the Gulf of Tonkin,
struck a blue whale, and how it stopped the ship as still
as if she'd run upon the coast of Asia - as still, you'd think,
as a night nurse who's stopped beside a bed
to find its once-pure sheets are wet with blood.

DANIEL LAMBERTON taught philosophy aboard a Navy ship and currently directs the humanities program at Walla Walla College in Washington.

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