Harry Kemp

(15 December 1883 – 8 August 1960 / Youngstown, Ohio)

The Doldrums (A Still-Life Picture) - Poem by Harry Kemp

The sails hang dead, or they lift and flap like a cornfield scarecrow's coat,
And the seabirds swim abreast of us like ducks that play, a-float,
And the sea is all an endless field that heaves and falls a-far
As if the earth were taking breath on some strange, alien star,
For there are miles and miles of weed that tramp around and 'round
Till a fellow's tempted to step out and try if it's the ground.
And, sometimes when we strike a space that's clear of wild sea-grass
Our faces look up true and smooth as from a looking glass -
For unwrinkled as a baby's smile the ocean lies about
And a pin would break in ripples if we only cast one out . . .
But the skipper isn't happy for there's not a wind that blows, -
And beware the Mate's belaying pin as up the deck he goes,
For the ship, she's rolling, rolling like a nigger on a spree
And the cargo's almost shifted as we wallow in the sea
Because, out somewhere miles away a storm is waking hell . . .
And up smooth lifts of bubbling weed we ride the rolling swell . . .
Oh, each inch of us is crawling with the itch of prickly heat;
We can hear our own blood throbbing like a Chinese tom-tom's beat
And we catch a voice that's lifted, though it hardly seems in prayer -
It's the poor old cook that's cursing in the boiling galley there . . .
Oh, the region of the doldrums, for the devil it was made
And all decent seamen hate it as they pray for winds of trade
As they flounder toward the trade-winds where the sails lift full and free
And once more the prow runs onward foaming through the open sea.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 15, 2010



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