The Steamboat Arabia (Kansas City, Missouri)
Digging one day, in land flat
and fielded pale with wheat, a husband and wife
found the ribs of a boat, kept dry for a century
by topsoil and silt, hull still full
of cargo: tarnished silver to cover
our eyes, copper pennies
for under our tongues. Leather straps
for boots worn while taming horses, a bit
for our mouth to hush moans
when we needed quiet. This boat and its bounty
are a museum a woman and I discover on a trip
that is both a homecoming
and an introduction. Osage, Callaway, Boone:
on old maps the river sluiced counties
across different latitudes. The river says,
everything can be lost. The boat says, everything
can be recovered. The boat hole in the field,
a mouth half a mile wide. By morning,
it filled again with water.
The river says, churn, says torrent, says,
give me. Our bodies returning this thirst.
I promise the woman I am not a Jonah,
my teeth nicking her skin, revealing
all that water underneath. Forget rivers,
even continents shift. But here is the boat
pulled out of the land.
Here is a river saying, forgive me.
Here are our bodies, the saltslick bones of them,
begging the current to carry us past
any snag. Or like the Arabia, to be granted
return, to be dragged from the mud,
whole and almost new.
Returning to Seattle
There are ghosts at the end of the dock. Linda says,
welcome back. Sammy asks, how are things? Are you
at the end of the dock? The scraping metal sound
is the same, the boats still rock from side to side.
The catwalk, rain-soaked, the halyards, bare.
Look at my face, you’ll know what I’m asking.
Look at my face, you’ll know what you want.
I hold a million dirty secrets. One more won’t hurt.
I never learned how to clean the bilge, only to pump
the toilet so the handle didn’t break. I looked for you
in the park where rusted machines gape at each other
like frightened dinosaurs. Across the water, the city
gaped at me. Go home, go home. You sank the boat,
so we took a car. You punctured a tire, so we took
a train. The tracks cracked, so we flew. We couldn’t stop
looking down. Last night I searched for the boat
but the boat wasn’t there. Linda had an affair.
Sammy took pills. You could not stomach love,
and that is the worst secret I keep. Winter
has arrived. I’ll sew you a quilt to seal the deck
from water. I’ll knit you a scarf to wave
from the mast. You can’t sail backwards, but catch
the right current and you don’t need a sail at all.
The ghosts wail, I have not yet learned
to banish their voices. They ask me to name my wish,
I have already whispered it. Foghorns drown out
my voice, the dinosaurs rumble forward. Your car
carries you forward until it swerves. Your arms
hold me safe until they don’t. The boat didn’t sink.
Catch it as it comes around the cape, reel it in
like a fish, then steer it back to me.
I’ll be the rudder, I’ll be the boat, I’ll be
shouting your name.