Stepping deftly to the jetty,
members of the boating party,
women in pearls, long skirts, cloche hats,
men in blazers, white yachting flannels,
slickers dangling from an arm,
walk the ramp to the misty shore.
The sand is grey, the water greyer,
the light is a queasy off-grey color
depriving everything of shadow.
The time must be late afternoon,
the day unlike the day in summer,
given the variables, it must be.
Crews from the offshore yawls and sloops,
maneuvering small white-hulled tenders
ferrying members of the party,
are dressed as that year’s crews are dressed,
are seen to do what ships’ crews do.
Though their hands are unseen by us
(the distance, yes, but greyness, too)
we are given to understand
(I cannot yet fully explain it)
nowhere will they prove less than equal
to whatever is asked of them:
hold to the wheel, haul port, trim starboard,
cast these members ashore, man stations.
A small flag flutters from the stern of
each of the auxiliary tenders.
Could we count the stars splattered on them
we could, within specific limits,
narrow the context, taste the year.
Of the life of those party members
put ashore on the coast of twilight,
walking in twos in that evening
where the evening is spread before them
like the fall of a women’s hair,
what can I say but that this woman
after the dusk has fallen, late,
somewhere not far from sea-routes, sailor,
where the choices pertain to voyage,
lets down her hair as dark as water;
that the man who accompanies her,
armed with a slicker against her sheer downpour,
soon, with the night and tide propitious,
sails out on what, not far from here,
the woman has let down like water;
that the hands of the crew, no matter
how astonishing that insight
into the reach of their commitment,
in the long darkness founder, crumble,
finger by finger leak with dust.
From the balustrade we view them
moving together into contexts
of which we have nothing but outlines:
fleets in the bay riding at anchor,
tenders plying their final runs,
the first stars tangled in the rigging,
belowdeck crews taking their suppers;
that entering on darkness, darkness
the absence, voyager, of shadows,
that letting down, somewhere, of hair.
- Herbert Morris