It’s May and the maple wings are flying;
but my heart harks back to the bleak February
day when your little boat put out into the deep.

After a long winter of black branches flaying
slate gray skies, the wind wears a leafy
fullness and, in the warm space between

the gray rain’s laments, in the cloud dissipating
sunshine, why now am I swept back
on a dark heading into the storm’s keep?

I cried then too, the night you embarked,
sailing your little lightship beyond the shores of sleep
into the heart of a silence my cries cannot pierce.

Hold fast to your station, little lightship.
Stay and wait for me— keeping your one sure spot
for the sounding ships— so that I will not

be lost in the darkness; but when the sun sinks
for the final homecoming I shall steer true.
For my soul is restless until it rests with you.

+ + +

This poem owes a huge debt to a picture book, Lightship by Brian Floca. It’s a sweet picture book about a light ship, that we originally checked out from the library. Something about it touched me very deeply. The book kept repeating variations of the phrase about the lightship keeping her “one sure spot” and that phrase haunted me.

There’s a long history of associations between ships and death. Two of my favorite poems from my early days, Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar and D.H. Lawrence’s Ship of Death, as well as many others. And of course lighthouses as beacons of hope is also a long-standing association. So all that came together with my memory of grief over our miscarried baby Francis. The lightship became a symbol of the baby whose face I never got to see, who I hope to see again some day in heaven. Of course after that I had to own a copy of Brian Floca’s book. ( CI can never read it without getting a little misty-eyed.)

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