THE SAILORS


I
rolled along the littered dock
And met two ancient sailors
Who told of harder, wetter days
On small and dirty whalers.
Then one of the salts asked the other one
If he knew aught of afterlife
And the other growled in his deep bass voice
And let his words run rife.

“Have ye ever stood on a heavin’ deck,
And watched the white caps race.
And heard the riggin’ whine and moan
And spring sure after brace.
Have ye ever watched the scuppers roll,
Hard under and alee?
Then ye know what hell is!

“Have ye ever, hoisted, stiff with ice,
A mainsul, cold and white,
And broke yer knuckles and yer nails
Fixin’ the aft truck light?
And damn near cried with the
Seering pain chasing over ye?
Then ye know what hell is.

“Have ye ever stood the midnight dog,
And fought a writhin’ wheel?
And called aloft the starboard watch
T’ keep water on her keel?
Have ye ever heard the lightning crash,
And take away the main?
Then ye know what hell is.

“But then, I ask, have ye heard,
An evening curlew’s cry,
And felt a gracious tropic rain
And heard the south wind sigh?
And have ye seen a yellow moon,
Ease up into the sky?
Then ye know what heaven is.

“And have ye heard with yer own ears,
A siren’s pleading song?
And had a foreign maiden, hold
That horny hand o’er long?
And sipped the lotus of the south,
Where labor can’t belong?
Then ye know what heaven is.”

And then he stopped and noticed me
And looked at me quite sad.
“That makes you long for a sailor’s life
For ye look none so glad
But never be a sailor-man,
Just study yer lessons, lad,
And ye’ll know what earth is.”






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