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I have just returned
from a twelve-day cruise
through a string of lagoons
that opened to an ocean with views
from my stateroom that burned
all I knew of dodos and loons
to extinction. These new sea legs
feel amphibious to me, which begs
the obvious question: have I devolved
from overwrought human to primordial fish?
Perhaps in the itinerary, I got too involved.
What follows is real, no need to embellish.

The first port of call
was a small rocky isle
named Leave Me Alone
with people I never saw smile.
Heads doddering, their chests were all
caved from speaking only to cone-
shaped devices, never to each other.
Got their news from some all-seeing mother,
they fed us deep-fried curly disdain,
dragged us through museums of love betrayed.
That nobody wanted us there was plain
from dark looks and cheap trinkets arrayed.

The second port, Curiosity,
was a little more pleasant
with umbrella drinks and beach
towels drying on resident
porches and invitations to tea.
What are you doing? I teach,
write, and—oops, I had said too
much, I could tell from the boo
and the hiss and the way they
moved onto the next passing thing.
That I couldn’t brighten everyone’s day
shocked me, at first, like a manta ray sting.

Why Should We Care was the name
of the third port of call after two days
on a green and impetuous sea.
Score cards were handed out at quays:
for each kindness shown, game
points were earned to collect free
pizzas and affection. But if you fell
behind and lost count, there was hell
to pay—bye-bye, fool, back to the ship!
Why Should We Care and its uber-fair
trade did show me how not to give a rip.
A blue-footed booby ate my score card mid-air.

You’ve Done This Before
is a vast territory unclaimed
in the Tropic of Virgo that nobody
wants to admit exists. Home to aged
seducers signing autographs for
dejected hearts, I tried to jet-ski
past them and their fading past,
but I should have asked
for directions first. I crashed
into a carousel and knocked
the horn off a unicorn, mashed
the arms off a giant stone virgin clock.

I was so glad to arrive
at Let’s All Just Pretend, a city
of canals and festivals devoted
to the possibility of prosperity
by means of mental thrive
despite impediment. I toted
nothing, tasted only what
inspired for the moment that
it pleased me, left the prickly
bears to simmer in their justifying
juices, the devotees to melancholy,
freeing me to watch dolphins multiplying.

I Will Not Come This Way
Again, our final destination, served
a feast for the fools like me who’d
had enough of living a half-life unnerved
by news and jealousies. Palms swayed;
we sang to ukelele ballads, and the mood
from deck hand to captain lifted when he threw
away the anchor and we saw that it was true.
Our streamlined ship could fly as well as sail
seas of cloud and clarity. With each cruise
done, a new twelve days of freedom we avail
the cycling sun and stars, everything to choose.


Once in a while, fortune lays a poem across my path that makes me want to run to everyone I know, crying, “Look at this, oh my God—look at this!” Thankfully, Oceantics spares my family and friends. I can just rant away here, trusting that people who want to read on, will.

The poem that ignited me was posted by a friend on Facebook. She posts a poem every day. This one was “Atlantis” by W.H. Auden. Thunderstruck, I printed it off and carried it everywhere for days. I’d probably read the poem twenty times before noticing it rhymed, Auden is so subtle, so gifted. His knowledge of the classics shimmers; I felt like I’d read a 7-stanza Odyssey.

The title of my poem borrows from W.H. who borrowed the concept from Plato. Who knows where Plato got the idea of a ship of fools? We’re all derivative. I have also employed Auden’s 12-line stanzas and rhyme scheme of ABCBACDDEFEF. To his lightness and depth, I cannot come close, but it has been great fun trying.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
The image of a blue-footed booby giving a rip comes from Wikipedia.