Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ISHMAEL, by KAREN SWENSON



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ISHMAEL, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Fifteen years I have known your face
Last Line: Turns with us lashed to its flank and sounds.
Subject(s): Mothers & Sons; Ships & Shipping


Fifteen years I have known your face
only now not to know
the face that sex reshapes,
that sculptress in flesh
who roughs your lip with a sooty smudge,
casts your features to her ambition,
and molds you anew to her necessity,
while your cheeks are still soft with my child.

Your mind is in the same transition,
one foot still caught in the childhood glue
of model ships of sea or space
of heroes bland as vanilla pudding,
while the other checks tentatively another world
blazed by the phosphorescent tentacles
of jellyfish and meteros.

It is difficult being two people,
but more difficult to leave one behind
to play forever with lullaby pirates
chased by the crocodile who ticks
a countdown to the alarm of life.

The other self at the slip of voyage
reads in your darkened room
where over bricks and Brooklyn traffic
the wind blurts the sea through your window
as the command is surrendered
from Hook to Kirk to Ahab -
the maimed captain embedded in the self.

Landlocked in my life,
I wave a Quaker handkerchief from the dock,
knowing the ship you set out in
has no oars, leaks,
is lost in space.
But sea and stars are still the same
where wonder looms a white blindness.
Struck with all men's weaponry,
that animal whom we never fathom
turns with us lashed to its flank and sounds.





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