The Watch, David Appelbaum

Dale Champlin, Liberty Collage, Collage, 2021

The Watch*


The surface was glass. My father rowed.
The oars made fishtails as they fluted water.
Distant fishing boats trolled for
the moon that exerted a watery force.

On a backwater eddy of a mighty river.
The Saint Lawrence had coelacanths in its deep.
My father steered respecting their presence.
Their heavy gills lifted like oars to breathe.

Where we would beach receded as we neared.
The sublunary glow was silver. It flattened
the oars’ tiny putsch which was insufficient
to lay siege to the silent tidal current.

When my sister let out intermittent cries
– dream or panic attack – progress went on paused.
Captain, O Captain, my father leaned aft to console
or snuff out the mutinous uproar.

Along with waves that lapped the gunwales
as they sought a new balance for the boat,
there was, I heard, an indistinct plop below,
a canister opening under pressure,
ordnance as the fuse ignites.

I imagined the whosh escaping
the scramble to void the energetic mess
that stained and would cause my mother
to recite her catalogue of reprimands.

The watch my father got for Guadalcanal
had slipped back into the birth element.

Flares drowned the bay under Marine assault.
Dead soldiers joined the tide’s retreat.
The medics (like my father) performed triage
on corpses already pilfered for memorabilia.

There was a torn Jap flag in the cedar closet,
bullet holes rent the Rising Sun.
To touch the silken tatter felt shameful.
I would bury it under Army patches.

He leaned far astern, a fisher over water.
Soft sobs, smothered by waves.
They prefigured later shipping news,
mordant silence, my grandmother’s disbelief.

Think of torpedoes, kamikaze, naval atrocities,
maimed sailors, bereft of any hope,
a future of internecine war,
but a single stifled cry sized that pity.

It came to signify the wreck of a man
his hours, a small prize, now drowned
in the seepage of oceans.

Years after, a gaudy gold watch,
hung disgracefully loose at the wrist.
Its Roman face, the colonist’s,
bound to vanish too in seizing time.

David Appelbaum

*Note: This poem first appeared in David Appelbaum’s collection of poetry, Portuguese Sailor Boy, The Black Spring Press Group (Eyewear Publishing), © 2020

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