When the storm is afar, and in the distance, the skies dance
with intermittent flashes and rumblings faint,
And the crew shut themselves in their cabins below, nestled in
blankets to ward off the dampness and the chill,
There are terrors born and whispers, and the heart makes itself
known, and the gut, aching and heavy.
When the storm comes howling and the wind and waves pile
themselves upon the hull like an unconquerable, infinite
army at the walls of an ancient city,
What brave and manly shouts can be heard over the confusion:
cries of alarm, fierce and hurried commands
As the men struggle to tame the wild-cat vessel, scrambling up
ropes, cutting lines, wrestling with wheel and rudder,
Their fear electric and quickening, rousing them to the superhuman.
When the fatal crush has sounded, and the ship shudders,
by the reef, bleeding inward and dropping, rolling like a
mortally wounded animal into the depths,
And the life-boats are departed or lost, and the signs of distress are
cut off by rain and fog,
There is at least one among them, some hardened, old sea-dog
Who can be heard laughing,
For he has always known that tears and despair are for the losers,
The ones who must remain behind to lament their failings and
But laughter! Ah, laughter is for the truly lost,
And there's no laughter quite like the laughter of the condemned as
it belts out its fierce answer to the riddle of all misfortunes.
The eyes of the laughing lost flash with a strange gleam
righteousness and coarse wisdom.
Their tongues burn with a liquor stronger (and far more eloquent)
than the strongest whiskey.
They are like the newly born into a faith, lost in a single profound
revelation, an insight, a mystery of horrific beauty,
They rise like a meteoric star of ill omen, traversing their arc of
menace over waters calm yet treacherous where the ships of
dreamers and adventurers, too often without chart or compass,
set out in haste, white sails billowing.
They sink into the harbors of the world. Many eyes are there to
witness their fall:
A surge of wild light that hisses and smokes lustily with its quenching
Leaving a grim, odorous pillar of smoke as monument to their passing.
George Chadderdon © 2001