And so, having boarded ship at Joppa, he slept
among the bundled cargo bound for Tarshish,
in the dark hold, under the double bank of oars,
where, having already noticed the sky, he found a space,
done at last with prayer, with foolish forgiveness.
And soon the ship embarked, a heavy bireme,
paddling the dreamless depths, riding the swirling crests
that rose in the westward wake of the clouds.
He lay curled between overhead timbers
and the thin-walled bottom, in a hollow of the keel,
while the laden galley rode low in the water
and the puddled seepage slopped the walls.
Just above him, rain began to pound the deck,
though this was nothing to the long concussions
of the waves, a thunder within the thunder.
Still, he slept like a stone, wedged among the crates.
And the sea spouted whirlwinds everywhere.
And the fearful sailors cleared the drenched deck,
throwing off freight; such a storm, they saw,
might easily split the ship, smashing it to pieces.
Swamped in the dangerous space between gods,
in the high unholy vacuum of the waves,
the sagging ship plunged to the top of its mast,
yet he still pitched, dead weight, against the planking.
Shaking him, needing every god to help,
the angry captain cried out, astonished at such calm.
And when, at last, on the impossible seas,
the sleeper woke, he knew exactly what was wrong.
Under the tossing sun, moon, and stars,
somewhere between Joppa and Tarshish,
far beyond the little gods that rule a valley here or there,
a stream, a cloud, a hill, a blade of grass,
his own death rose from the bottom of the world.
And when it saw his tiny splash beside the boat
and the desperate bubbling around his head,
it came toward him quickly, its wide jaws open,
ready since the beginning, to swallow him whole.