Tall Ships

They come over the water into the harbor
as crowds jostle for a view from the ferry,
tall ships from across the world— enactment
of some yearly ritual of crossing that dates

back to a world when kings and statesmen of new
empires leaned over tentative maps unscrolled on
library tables. Their pale, excited fingers traced
the zig-zag journey across months, across a chain

of inked islands to some vaster expanse where the sun
might, conceivably, never have to set— And their
sailors: how different might they have been, really,
from these young men in optic white from Brazil,

Colombia, Ecuador, standing at close attention at the foot
of each gangplank as tourists nervously find their way
up or down, one foothold at a time? Those conquests
might now go under the name of history: the ones

that launched Magallanes’ ships toward some idea
of the spice islands, so that today, every grocery
store in the northern hemisphere has whole shelves
listing with fenugreek, coriander, and anise,

and salts in shades that range from white to pink
and grey— the ones that gave the archipelago
of my dreams and birth, the name of a Spanish king.
Sailors climb the masts and fly the festive

banners and the crests signifying their own
native origins. And after all, this is still
about territory: the way each boat’s carefully
berthed, the way we move from one to another

as though to test or bring tribute, knowing
the waters that slap against each hull can be more
jealously coveted— for oil, for nutrient life,
for passage to safeguard into that uncertain future.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

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