The Rose Shipwreck
By Christopher Bernard
Such a shipwreck of flowers – a petaled wreck
on an azure sea, of blood-red salmon
stained with peach, with a steady clear
tolling of deep bells under a sheer blue sky
half-deafened in the gale – flowers staining
the sea in disintegrating color, like the heads of children
drowning – and the magnificent ship slowly dissolves
in the whirlwind of its wreckage,
a dream of itself, a littering of its losses
to wind and tide, a fatal cry of roses
brimming its mouth – the thunder heaves a shout,
and the sea rumbles like a vast
train in a tunnel – a flare of lightning
disappears, silent as the shipwreck sinks,
spilling its wreckage across the white floor
of a seasick ballroom, bales of flowers
splitting till the petals cover the wastes,
like the Roman’s feasters, drowning them in roses.
The ghost of a sea swallows the ghost of a ship
under the ghost of a sky: listen, you can hear them,
the ancient sailors singing like the sirens,
calling you to sea – to sea – to sea –
steel gray, enamel blue, and white with foam,
to join the ships that blossom like so many roses
and scatter their petals as they perish, and drown, and sing,
like them, calling the next generation
to sea – to sea – like us – well? will you brave it?
will you build your ships of roses and brave the sea?
or is its storm a terror worse than childhood’s,
not to be escaped, the waves and wind
the white of a cage, the ice and snow cold bars
in a burning sky that seals the world and twists
down on our heads even as we heave
out into the open sea, our white sails out
like butterfly wings, our hopes so many hooks
the wild sea can catch and hold us with,
like love itself, a bark, a cage, a brand?
Shall we build our ships of roses and brave the sea,
that rose of fire, garden where winds take root
and grow into forests?
Though night is coming, shall we aim our bow toward the dark,
though the storm is coming, shall we spot the thunderhead
and steel our sheets till they thrum in the underwind
and the water flails and hisses over the bulkheads
and churns and cries and crashes in our wakes
like an arrow thrusting us ahead, to sea,
to sea, far out, pushing us till we fly
into the storm? Shall we build our ships
of roses? Shall we flower over the whirlwind sea?
Christopher Bernard is a poet, novelist and critic living in San Francisco. His novel A Spy in the Ruins was published by Regent Press (http://www.regentpress.net/spyintheruins). He is also a co-editor of the literary and arts webzine Caveat Lector (www.caveat-lector.org). “The Rose Shipwreck” was originally published in Caveat Lector.