My Silent Gondolier
Why did you take that unfamiliar turn,
that fork I barely noticed?
I don't even know who you are,
my silent gondolier:
Yet I sit in the prow of your boat
pretending that I can hear my name
spoken by the splashes of your pole
as it broaches the canal water.
And even at this moment
while we scout beneath the earth
for a peek at Styx or Lethe (anywhere in shadow),
I'm content to have you at the stern,
no longer troubled to never see you
nor hear the brooding timbres
of your voice braided with mine.
I savor instead such company as I can
in the reassuring cadence of your strokes.
We slide forward, below a cavern sky of basalt
whose hard, black-ash clouds hang frozen overhead.
Somewhere, in the highest rock-hewn reaches
of this cave, on the ceiling of this nightbound lake,
a glint of mirror-white ricochets like runny chrome.
It shatters on a mote, sharp as sandblast,
that scatters spectral colors from the beam,
aiming each at angles better measured by the hue.
Yet, no sooner than the shades are cut and cast,
do they come together again, like a gasp of surprise,
and shoot away in focused monochrome.
We sail across the bowl of a great spoon
beyond which there is no knowing of the world.
Water parts along the hull and slips behind
like fingers reaching for the hem of a saint.
I listen to its fluid, ceaseless "husssssssh"
as it falls over some invisible lip of rock
circling us and pours the overflow
down a depth of air that hides the crashing spray.
What larger cave, what greater mouthful of sightless
wind swallows this covered cup we slowly cross?
From what springs are these waters drawn,
some deeper earth than ours,
lapping at the boat with its silver ripples?
Hovering somewhere in the wind,
I hear the clicking of mandibles,
the buzz of beating wings.
And as always in the dark,
I fear everything I cannot know.
But the ceiling sparks again with color
and in lights they cast before the boat,
I spot some peek of shadow,
an outline bobbing on the water to remind me
that whether or not we chance to meet
you carry me across surfaces that wash cold
the trailing tips of my fingers.
I have no care about where we go,
for even if you take me over the edge,
I'll trust you to hoist a hidden sail
that raises us onto the cavern winds,
Tacking toward a new course
and a way out that I've never seen.
About the Poem
This poem was inspired by a recording of "Moments in Love" by The Art of Noise. The reference to mandibles in the poem is directly influenced by sounds in the recording. I made a few slight changes in January 2001 to improve the sound of the poem.
This verse is a one-sided conversation between the narrator and the gondolier. The gondolier is a symbolic, unknown person who does more than drive the gondola. He charts the course into the future, navigating personal destiny. Without his firm driving push, there is no progress, no movement forward. Here is a video interpretation of this poem, read by David:
My Silent GondolierThis verse is a one-sided conversation between the narrator and the gondolier. The gondolier is a symbolic, unknown person who does more than drive the gondola. He charts the course into the future, navigating personal destiny. Without his firm driving push, there is no progress, no movement forward.View on YouTube
This poem originally published in Cotton Boll/Atlanta Review Vol II, No. 2.