Sunday, February 13, 2011

Burrard Inlet Ships

At a window overlooking water -- container ships
and bulk carrier ships lying at anchor
framed in front of us. They’re always there,
I hear a voice say. As if the ships were the same ships
that sat there twenty-four or forty-eight hours ago.
As if, in the middle of the night, the ships did not
arrive and drop anchor at exact latitudes and longitudes. 
And tugboats did not come and bring the ships to dock,
and other ships not arrive and take the first ships’ places --
in the middle of the night. As if the ships were not
emptied of what they brought here and loaded up again
while the ships’ sailors took their hours’ shore leave
to go to a bank, visit a doctor, talk with a priest,
buy a blouse or bracelet for a woman back home.
As if, between sundown and dawn, the ships did not depart.
And every two or three days, a new ship and new crew
did not sit at each terminal wharf. As if it was not
now a new ship visible outside the window.
All night, out on the water, the ships’ horns send out
sound signals for the ships’ arrivals and departures,
and all night, in inlet-filling fog, the ships’ horns
send out long blasts, long repeating notes -- accompaniment
to the circuit of sleep in the houses along the shore.
New ships and crews come, new products are brought
from faraway locales, and new loads of coal, sulphur,  
lumber and wheat are taken to faraway locales.
All night, when gulls come up from the inlet
through cloud and rain, gull after gull takes up
the same insane-sounding cry of unfathomable
emergency in a wilderness of water, and circles with the same
single message that seems wound and unwound
as on a wire anchored somewhere unknown to any gull
in the inlet circling and circling through its tides.
All night, the outsized ships come and go -- all night.
As if they were not, each of them, the same ship powering
over the glowing deep blue water-globe. As if the voice
at this window had not been with me all along,
waiting inside my hearing. As if it was not
the voice of one more myself than I can know.
As if this one’s home had not always been here
where he could see an anchor place and hear gulls.
As if he had not always returned here. As if he would not
say of the ships he saw, They’re always there.

When the Big Hand is on the Starfish

When the big hand is on the starfish
and the little hand is on the crab, you’re looking up
at the lobby clock. It's six o'clock. Now a flock
of sea-green Canada Geese, the sun’s rays
blazing over it, flies past a mass of sea life --
lobsters, turtles, sea snails, skate, make their way
through forests of seaweed. This is outside,
within the arched entranceway. Seahorses, pufferfish,
traced in terracotta, swim the front wall face
as along inlet shore rock. The same biplane
flies by twice, three times, then the same Zeppelin --
here, it is and always will be 1930,
when this was the tallest edifice in the entire
British Commonwealth. When the big hand
is on the starfish and the little hand
is on the lobster, it's three o’clock. Boats and ships
go by -- the Resolution, the Golden Hind,
the HMS Egeria, the Sonora, the Empress of Japan.
Inside again, at the five brass elevator doors,
above which sailing vessels burst out of waves
with lighting in their prows, stand five female
elevator operators, chosen for their beauty,
wearing sailor uniforms, female usherers
into hardwood interiors like ships’ cabins --
1930 is also 2009, and now they’re the flowing light
that chooses the lobby’s stained glass windows
for their beauty, and the zodiac pictured
on the polished marble floor. When the big hand
is on the starfish and the little hand
is on the turtle, it’s two o’clock. Terracotta
Canada Geese fly along the building’s sides
to meet above the brass-framed main glass doors.
This is the Marine Building, address, 355
on a street named for Sir Harry Burrard,
ex-shipmate of the captain who, at the behest
of His Majesty's Royal Navy, sailed here
to find a mysterious sea-route, and failed,  
yet mapped the area’s every intricate coastal mile.
When the big hand is on the starfish
and the little hand is on the sea snail, it’s nine o'clock,
and I'm nine, or is it seven, years old, turning
the page in Haig-Brown’s Captain of the Discovery
where the captain and a dozen of his crew
sail in the ship’s yawl through the tree-branch-
overhung narrows into the inlet. Now people
from the nation whose home is the north shore
put off in canoes to greet them and offer
freshly cooked smelts. The Englishman at once
orders his men to shorten sail and allow
the canoes to keep pace. Now he looks out
across the inlet -- which he will name for Sir Harry.
The geese that fly across his sails, and past
the bright brass buttons on George Vancouver's
blue naval coat, fly now through the brass rays
brightening the Marine Building entranceway
and framing a Discovery. When the big hand
is on the starfish and the little hand is on the crab,
it’s six o’clock again. For an instant,
or is it a lifetime, terracotta geese pass
into living geese and back again -- Art Deco.
They pass through where illustrious ships
sail by and famous buildings stand. They pass
through to living geese like the seahorses pass
through to living seahorses, like the starfishes
to those with feet fastening onto rock,
purple arms slowly decorating time.