Sailmaker’s Palm
BLUE YODEL by Ansel Elkins

Winner of the 2014 Yale Series of Younger Poets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Ansel Elkins

My black-haired bride was made of sails.
She was a ship; her wedding sails were white.
I made her dress with yards of canvas.
Winding stitch after stitch, I sewed all night.

I was a child to the wind.
I listened to it like a father.
I put an inwardly spiraled shell to my ear
to hear what the sea had to say.

A web spun between weeds. Like a memory
I keep forgetting
of being kissed for the first time at the sea;—
her wind-whipped red hair, her bathing suit of cobalt blue.

My bride was a full-rigged ship
being launched to sea. On her maiden voyage
she was thrown into the wild green Atlantic.

At the hour of my death
carry me to the graveyard by boat
as on Bequia, island of the cloud,
where the dead were ferried by oarsmen
who rowed de dead stroke:—
they took one stroke through water,
then feathered the oars,
took the next stroke through the air,
then feathered the oars.
The oarsmen of the island
transported both body and spirit
into the afterlife.

I saw my wife sailing beneath the light
of a full moon. Her bright sails illumined
she rides across a ghostly topography.

The shipwright ran a ragged hand down the entire length
of the vessel’s hull from stern to stem.
He looked up at the wooden figurehead—
bare-breasted, her hair all around her.
Her wild blank eyes unpainted.

When a sailor dies at sea
the ship’s sailmaker sews the dead man into a canvas shroud.
Stitch by stitch, the sailmaker closes him tightly round
with twine; he works his way from foot to head.
And the last stitch
he sews through the dead man’s nose.

Death, Captain,
is not what I feared it would be.
I was blown through death.
Death blew through me.
I was sewn into the wind itself
as a singing voice blown out to sea.

—ANSEL ELKINS

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