On July 24, two South Florida boys headed out to fish, and they have yet to return. Throughout the first week of their disappearance, I found my thoughts returning to them, as the last line from the first verse of "The Navy Hymn" kept surfacing in my brain. My online students, in an act of random synchronicity, spent last week discussing Stephen Crane’s "The Open Boat," which would not give me much hope for surviving the power of the sea. By the end of the week, I was weaving these strands together to form the poem (the words in italics are the first verse of "The Navy Hymn"). I'm still not sure I'm happy with the title, but here's the poem.
I'm thinking of revisiting it, in light of the refugee crisis in Europe and bodies washing to the shore. If I do, I'll repost.
Eternal Father, strong to save,
The children fear the murky depths,
but teenagers assume invincibility.
The old ones can read the wind
to understand the weather that will come.
The teenagers know that they can outrun
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
The boys go fishing and vanish.
The days drift by; the search widens.
Did they have water? Were they wearing
life jackets? Which way
would the current pull them?
We search for specks on the surface
of a bright sea.
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
We comfort ourselves with older news
of survivors once presumed lost, prodigal sailors
returning. Conrad, Crane and Coleridge told
us, but we would not heed
their ancient mariners with warnings of woe.
We watch the shoreline, but the sea
knows how to keep
Its own appointed limits keep;
The sea will suck away all you love:
your best sunglasses, favorite rings slipped
right off your fingers, loved ones, sandals,
swimsuits, all gone along with your sense
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!