When I was nine my father brought me a huge, bright-green, horned bug from our garden: Look! You can bring it in to school for the bug project! When he turned away I placed some tomatoes on top of the bug, and later had to admit in shame that I had ‘accidentally’ crushed it. Alison! What the hell were you thinking?
Looking back, I see a girl who was afraid of that enormous bug and afraid of her father, a girl who could not admit fear and could not ask for help. And I see a young, gruff man who had found something magic and brought it as a gift to his daughter, sure she would love it. A scared daughter, a bewildered man. Who both, over the years, kept sailing on, finding out the story by pushing into it, until only love and laughter were left.
Voyage, by Tony Hoagland
I feel as if we opened a book about great ocean voyages
and found ourselves on a great ocean voyage:
sailing through December, around the horn of Christmas
and into the January Sea, and sailing on and on
in a novel without a moral but one in which
all the characters who died in the middle chapters
make the sunsets near the book’s end more beautiful.
And someone is spreading a map upon a table,
and someone is hanging a lantern from the stern,
and someone else says, “I’m only sorry
that I forgot my blue parka; It’s turning cold.”
Sunset like a burning wagon train
Sunrise like a dish of cantaloupe
Clouds like two armies clashing in the sky;
Icebergs and tropical storms,
That’s the kind of thing that happens on our ocean voyage —
And in one of the chapters I was blinded by love
And in another, anger made us sick like swallowed glass
& I lay in my bunk and slept for so long,
I forgot about the ocean,
Which all the time was going by, right there, outside my cabin window.
And the sides of the ship were green as money,
and the water made a sound like memory when we sailed.
Then it was summer. Under the constellation of the swan,
under the constellation of the horse.
At night we consoled ourselves
By discussing the meaning of homesickness.
But there was no home to go home to.
There was no getting around the ocean.
We had to go on finding out the story
by pushing into it —
The sea was no longer a metaphor.
The book was no longer a book.
That was the plot.
That was our marvelous punishment.
For more information about Tony Hoagland, please read his obituary.