(reading time: 30 minutes)
Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner
(click here for audiobook)
who has shamelessly molded it from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
In which a harmonious utopia is upset by the harmony's approaching finale, and how one subject journeys with subjects of his own in search of the responsible musicians, only to find themselves beset by monsters, divine jailers, and the collapsing forces of nature.
First it was saved, then it arrived
for them the date of dates
on the invitation described
April the seventh it detailed
to see the bride Ann Faire
upon the hour of eleven
to see groom George declare
his love for her would last always,
longer than her dress’s silk,
long as the world, long as the fates,
patience that would ne’er jilt
Precisely on they would be wed
the spot they first met eyes,
a wharf with singing sea below
to tune of fam’ly cries.
The fishing boats were far from home,
the why of such an hour,
no slimy smell in ocean foam
to turn the sweet day sour.
The bride had not yet shown herself.
Band members settled in.
Fam'ly took seats, one side or next,
thrilled for it ought begin.
The best man stood far in the back;
he checked ev'ry detail.
The fellow's name was Caldwin, Zach.
Chafed he was by limp sail,
behind him, requiring a twist,
an old man quite blinkered.
Rudderless sea dog! Bearded swab!
Zach was sure he sank her:
the ship Tact, captained by manners.
Best to shoo him away
lest he intrude or worse, banter
on this, George and Anne’s day.
‘Oi! You there, with the long grey beard!’
The man’s lost eyes stayed so,
forcing Zach to march to-ward him
and make it widely known
‘-that you are not welcome out here-
It’s a private affair.’
The swab, unaware, had no fear,
‘til the triangle shared
one clear note from the wedding-band,
a mere preparing chime;
it nonetheless roused him into
gasp and thrash, shout and rhyme!
‘Twas the sound each morn, I swear yet!
Tinkling lights upon seas!
Choral cliffs, lowing epithets!
Couplet pearls, metered breeze!’
Zach took the swab by the shoulders,
made him sit on a post,
shushed him with sev'ral quiet pleas
as his eyes brimmed with ghosts:
not one fam'ly, not one city,
but a whole world in him.
‘It was music!’ continued he,
‘notes felt in ev’ry limb!’
Caldwin did not want to listen
to this fool from nowhere,
yet looks bottomless, capturing
had him wholly ensnared
at yarn’s open, rhymed through and through
on this musical world.
‘There is no better life to choose
than what did there unfurl!
Paradise, but without a name;
there were no words at all.
Forsooth we spoke in melody,
flat whispers, sharpened calls.
Each voice was like an instrument,
and no two were the same
from mighty trumpet elephants
to harping housecats tame.
The latter laid about always
with no desire to hunt;
Even memory was deathless.
Eyes aside. Teeth were blunt.
Ocean bounties washed up in mounds;
in baskets we gathered:
rugs of kelp, salty ghourds abound,
tasty inky splatter
stained on the conch slithering by,
and even crunchy pearls
bursting with bombs of briny broth.
It was a sated world.
Little we knew, would you believe,
all things come to an end.
We never thought of Time as thief:
one who would not amend.
Behind our singing day-to-day
played a song age-to-age;
its sonata to its rondo
determined mortal cage.
The symphony was all we had
We did not intend- oh!
-such horrors -in confusion clad…
that were with crescendo
brought to life, and to bear, on us.
Twas like a volcano,
its eruption invisible,
start’ling like summer snow.’
And then the swabby’s jaw went lax,
back to a gaunt buffoon.
Then heard across the harbor slats
was the band’s
Just a musician’s bit of fun,
it struck the mariner
like a bolt vengeful from the blue
forcing the gray sinner
to divulge yet more and again
the symphony’s details.
‘That sound was but one of the men;
With it I did regale
those on my shore who called me king
and obeyed I, bassoon.
Butchered to a name if I must,
Odaceus the true!
Here you’d name me a war hero,
but the symphony lacked…
not just wars, but swords and spear throws,
all things splintered and hacked.
Later it became clear, my friend,
that all I’d ever done
was hear the most aggressive steps
in the symphony’s run.
Age-to-age sound would build-and-build,
edge us onto our nerves,
come to rob what the ocean spilled,
and plunder our preserves!
So I would swell and make a fuss,
go to the beach and stand,
wave some driftwood and castigate
the foes nearing my land.
No such foe ever came of course;
the music always calmed.
Still, my powerful show of force
was an effective balm.
A palace raised under my feet
was one of my rewards,
along with a wife and children
who soon became my core.
A name would leave her tone besmirched...
She must be in this rhyme;
her song will have an ugly perch:
Pianope was mine.
My rule was one of harmony,
along with all things else,
ev’ry breath a celebration
of others and oneself.
Corridors in my stony bluff
were supple to the touch.
The sand outside was never rough,
soft as babes, silk, and such.
Resplendent crowns adorned our tops,
the shells of conch and squid.
Once shucked they survived to regrow,
to gift yet better lids.
Shame was not a thing invented,
and there I wish it stayed;
our clothes were nearly cemented
as scraps we’d often trade.
Love was dispensed without much care,
marriage merely a toy;
age meant nothing past one’s childhood…
This beard must be destroyed!’
Rabid, he tugged at his whiskers,
growled loud as any dog.
The wedding-guest could not risk her
hearing such, thus he clawed
at the swab’s lips to quiet him.
It worked, but at the cost
of intensifying his gaze,
focusing what was lost
into a paralyzing beam
that dulled Zach, held him fast.
Doubtless now that the tale was steam,
a pressure-building gas.
Swab needed speak, ear needed hear
the symphony’s last dregs.
For Anne’s tranquil ceremony,
he would hen upon eggs
with each being a lucid word
from the aged man’s mouth.
‘Go on, spin your tale,’ Zach murmured.
Once more his rhyme did spout:
‘Crescendo came and we could ken
the truth of symphony
and its portended conclusion:
death to all, even me!
The idea of such a silence
stilled our percussive hearts.
We had our first thoughts of defense
and other peopled parts.
Somewhere beyond our naïve shores
there had be musicians
responsible for this climax.
We pulled out maps and pins
to find we’d never swum that far.
There was one island marked
on ink black paper: a pearl star.
We prematurely larked...
but Pianope pointed out
that the star was but us,
and even if we journeyed there
the natives wouldn’t fuss.
To live we needed to explore;
sail was the only way
to go to the conductor’s shore
and convince them to play.
For that a leader had step forth
and command willing crew.
I was the only man to fit,
which ev’rybody knew.
Odaceus, man of bassoon,
would have accompany his tune
those righteous and steady.
While the vessel was constructed
I named my loyal aids:
Demodiskus and Noisicaä,
Feifus and brave Pliades,
Agamemno and Vyester,
Xylothues our wisest,
and we needed Arete lest her
decline. We were completed by
Tromboines, plus thirteen more,
their sounds far less familiar,
not one a paramour.
Already the finale dimmed
my mind with fright and ire.
I hired unfamiliar hymns
to bridge the dang’rous mire
of venomous uncertainty
that taunted us abroad.
Death was still but a silhouette,
yet came a shaping gnaw.
A few of us named sensed hunger
in symphony’s rumble.
Rogue solos spawned the first hunters;
prey now feared their stumbles.
None spoke of it as we left sand,
though our darting eyes did.
Our hearts sank with our first farewell;
on them this was branded:
To find the players of the land,
to learn why it must end,
to argue with this founding band,
to chorus as we tend!’
Again the old man’s words were spent.
Zach slapped his hollow cheek.
‘A real captain can’t stop halfway!
The oceans drown the meek!’
Wedding-guests couldn’t call him back,
nor clap, nor stomping boot;
it took what the band softly lacked
until just then-
‘That voice! Her voice! Discordant yowl!
It was her ruined me!
Her and her kin playing along
to extinction joy'sly.
We were weeks into our voyage,
finding nothing but fish,
when in the distance showed a smudge,
a sultry planted kiss,
we needed reach to resupply.
near the island’s overgrown edge
where was a mountain leak.
The river allowed us ingress;
watched the whole way we were,
pawns in a goddess game of chess.
Touch of sand made us curs
and nothing more to that odd shore.
The ship was more than dry
when my orders sent us inland
to find those knowing eyes.
Never a creature so helpless,
in all the symphony,
as us with empty hands and heads;
we waded into trees
armed with nothing but the same stick
with which I b’rated air.
I dropped it, feeling most foolish,
its fam’ly tow’ring there.
An awing sight, those isle gardens,
and gardens they had be,
not wild as something had to tend
the mossy paths between.
No animals were seen nor heard,
the giant fruits untouched,
like globes of juice as big as seals,
with fifty to a bunch!
They marked our way to a crevice
in a mighty cliff-side
where dwelt that dream-scheming mistress
who’d gladly mount my pride
on her wall though it was not bare!
Nay, the stone was covered
in a dense script floor to ceiling
gouged by hand that suffered
the torment of education
from which we were quite free.
Our illiterate vocation,
on this we all agreed,
was a blessing until just then.
We were quietly vexed
until she startled us, off’ring
to read aloud the text.
On whirl-around I saw my fate,
sat serene with crossed legs:
a woman tall as city gate
with thighs as thick as kegs.
A sea-fog cloak draped over her
with a metronome crown
that kept a time we couldn’t keep,
just like her tidal gown.
One wrist had withered down to bone,
yet in that hand was held
a violin rudder! ...A bow?’
‘Yes, a bow!’ Zach dispelled.
‘Forgive an old fool,’ the swab sobbed,
‘Our instruments within
never showed a form, piece, or parts,
lest you count joy and sin.
She had flute, bow, and metronome:
an ensemble in one.
How many would spill out their home
if her skin was undone?
I wondered how the gods were made…
by sleeping in a pile?
Could I compose as just a tooth
in a fused handsome smile?
Her voice fluttered as flute alone,
a note I must translate
into the name Calliopso:
Remember what, to us, that meant,
with our souls but song parts:
when gods try she merely pretends
to play the practiced art.
She is mum, just fingers and breath.
Neighbors play as composed
while our layabout Life-in-Death,
Play-at-Rest instead chose
with idle lungs in mimicry
to conserve her effort
and instead enjoy our death throes
during her own concert!
Flute was for oral history,
bow for what was written;
she drew on bony wrist to bring
to life the words hidden
to savages on that canvas
of primordial rock.
Stave was the most fundamental:
the god of building blocks.
She was lines: dawn, morn, day, dusk, dark.
On these music can be.
The other gods alight and lark
on templates that she dreams.
Within her Bracket had power
to determine what could,
couldn’t, happen in unison.
While old Double-Bar would
one movement from the next.
Clef chose pitch: highs and low of seas.
Half-blind, she stood to left
of Breath who gave us slight respite,
unlike great Caesura,
who could make the whole world relax.
Staccato could stir a-
haste! And Mistakes! Things out of turn-
Then in swept sneaky Trill
who flicks the flame as candle burns
to make you doubt your skill.
Minor notes in the pantheon
had the same goal as these
when there was nothing left to play:
Stave’s heart had to be seized.
For she was falling out of love
with herself and her song.
Ev’ry god swooped down from above
to prove that they belonged
in her mysterious after.
Divine suitors gathered
right where we were, Stave’s own island,
to see which god mattered
enough to outlast the music.
Only one would succeed,
by seduction, gift, or a trick,
in fulfilling her needs.
Calliopso finished the tale
as Stave began her choice,’
and sheerly by coincidence
‘What happens when Stave takes to bed?’
Mister Caldwin inquired.
‘My world would die,’ the old man said.
‘Silence for all she sired.
To them my crew was just beetles
scurrying to and fro.
We could fight wars while they broke bread;
their tempo was so slow.
Each suitor’s turn took near a year,
time we spent prisoners
while Calliopso commandeered
my soul and my honor.
Time and again, in those caverns,
she claimed a love for me,
praised all my brave empty gestures
as like her own decree
to leech life from the symphony
I objected strenuously
as my crew called me king!
Yet what a god wants becomes truth.
She passed through my body
and lived in my resistant heart,
affairs of rhapsody.
My distant wife was so betrayed
to an unknown amount
as my integrity was flayed
to shreds I couldn’t count.
Guilt festered in me like maggots,
first time, and endless too,
for I couldn’t tell divine stone
from what could be thrust through.
I reveled in her forceful love
with a body gone limp
as Stave selected from above,
from overflowing brim,
the partner best to murder us!
Drips made it through the ground,
which Demodiskus collected
to guess at who was crowned
the finale’s judging lover.
Eight like-years passed this way,
then someone new came to court her.
Play-at-Rest told us stay
extra close while he was alight.
What is sown he will reap.
You’d call him Death or Thanomin.
To us, Rest, and not Sleep.
Sleep was something that we survived!
Rest, something no one did.
The land shook with the suitors’ cries,
blood on what they founded.
The onslaught brought into relief
exactly what Death was.
Their silence was his gift to Stave.
Play-at-Rest was abuzz
at her brilliant stratagem
of not playing along.
It kept her from the rest of them
who proved their notes were wrong.
Our world lost its time signature
now that Metre had passed.
The days and nights, they mixed like paint,
twilight now oceans vast.
In this final movement we plead,
please captor set us free,
we’re broken down, misery-fed,
and lo did she agree
now that her siblings had trailed off.
Rest came for lesser lives,
doom reached when he claimed the last bug:
top bird to bottom hive.
We included, and in we I,
who she still claimed to love.
My beating heart convinced her try
and distract those above.
But upon the isle a curse fell
which mortals could not cross.
Only players could pierce the spell,
and all but three were lost.
Play-at-Rest denied us escort,
her spying not yet done,
so Rest had to be lured close
by scent most moribund.
Volunteers were brave and plenty
for they di’n’t understand
that among our four-and-twenty
was the final firebrand.
True death was not yet in full swing,
luck for brave Pliades
as he presented me an axe
and stood upon his knees.
By Play-at-Rest’s unwanted touch
I knew Thanomin’s end,
which shook my guilty soul with such...
as they begged me to send…
...somewhere that’s never been defined!
Unwillingly I swung.
On this I demand you believe
why my dear friend’s head hung.
With Death half-full his soul transformed,
emerged from open neck,
spread stoic wings of seas and storms:
an albatross on deck!
The animal that harbored him
cried with his instrument
as it soared over the water
with desired consequence.
Rest emerged and flew right after,
cleared a path through the curse.
They could not contain their laughter,
bursting like mermaid’s purse
as the noble bird led astray.
Soon they were shrunk and gone.
The symphony could not resume;
we’d seen the final dawn.
No hope, no wind, and no heading…
Winged Death would beat us home.
What life remained we were hoarding
on floating fallen Rome.
On Odaceus all eyes fell,
as if I were now god
instead of a fast drowning heart
pumping out water trod!
Some understood, felt what I felt,
looking at me, forlorn.
I needed say it, deal the welt,’
but the band dealt
Despite Zach’s best positioning
the old man saw around
to the groom waiting eagerly
and made a whimper sound.
‘Cruel to return a bad omen,
I proclaimed with seconds.
We yet live, we women and men,
we family and friends.
Let those from who we are severed
enjoy warm shreds of hope.
They’ll think Rest closed their eyes to dream
while at map’s edge we grope
for a slim chance at survival
somewhere beyond his reach;
we form symphony’s revival
on quiet rival beach.
Save ourselves without bravado,
run away with our oars.
Not from ego, but to preserve
our world’s imperiled score.
So we fled and ululated,
voice our only treasure.
Perhaps Death would become sated
as we did adventure
along our original line
as if we never stopped,
but the godly culling was here;
it made the sea a sop.
Creatures drenched in unwinding truth
still swam and did take note
of the quite dated wake and sooth
from busybody boat.
In an unknown time after flight
we were stopped by impact.
Instinct told us a reef or rock
until the second smack
upside our noble figurehead.
She was the first victim
of a flickering, poorly bred,
glob of seafood pot-skim.
It devoured that poor wooden girl
with six separate maws,
glared with nine eyes, swished with ten tails,
had tentacles, webbed paws!
Two of us were eaten in shock
as it burbled out threats,
bragged it had ev’ry fish in stock,
ev’ry sea monster met.
The beast ruptured our hull once, twice,
and we began to sink.
Its face cycled through ray, slug, shark
while I just tried to think.
Challenge had be my best weapon
for fighting a braggart.
I asked: could you make sail from fin?
And that was just the start.
Helm eye? Arterial rigging?
Ah! A watertight hide?
Of course, it knew all the ships too!
But what about inside?
What of it? the shape-shifter asked
as its skin turned wooden.
To your food you’re not fully masked,
I said, bet she couldn’t
replace stomach with a cabin
or all gills with portholes.
Her animal groan turned to creak,
hammered nails a drum roll.
The water was at my ankles,
but its crown had a mast,
so we continued to rankle,
saving the key for last.
See? It growled, just a ship with speech,
yet cargo hold it lacked.
The mind, we mentioned, takes up room,
lo the fiend’s thought went black
when it hollowed out its own skull
to make way for dry goods.
It was a fine replacement hull
over which we now stood.
In that hold we found the eaten,
both stunned they were alive.
It was truly inanimate,
and attempted no dive.
We went on, guiding by the stars.
We had no Big Dipper,
just fireflies in a cosmic jar
above our shape-shipper.
Or should it be the ship-shaper?
As much to our surprise,
it could heal damage on its own:
a scabbing over prize!
Mostly it healed gnaw marks on rails
when the rations were gone.
For clocks we used rain-catching pails
and hunger pangs most drawn;
an absurd partnership it was
when we drank down whole weeks.
We turned to the murder of fish
with no more crumbs to eke.
We wept, committed them to Rest,
chewed on their betrayed bones,
our carnivory like incest,
as dread as Davy Jones.
Twas he or Rest protected them,
gliding in dark below,
emptying our nets, hooks, and guts,
claiming them in shadow.
The sea became solitary,
cold, clogged with chunks of ice,
even warmth too much to carry.
We dropped specks: frozen lice!
Our bodies shrank; shoes felt like graves.
We lived on naught but snow,
but one high flake was deceitful,
and I grabbed my cross-bow.
Not a weapon I had before,
made by our vicious ship,
but new instinct opened its drawer,
and trained my aiming grip.
That flake never fell; it had wings…
and flesh upon them, yes?
We could be fed a while longer,
if true my trigger-guess.
Shouts on deck as my bolt took off
for the soaring bird’s life,
though their hoar-thirst could barest cough,
‘It could not be,’ Zach Caldwin gasped,
louder than marching flute.
‘It could not be brave Pliades,
your friend, that you did shoot!’
‘Only Death knows,’ said haunted swab,
‘whether that bird was he,
but bolt struck true, its life was robbed;
it fell into the sea.
They scooped it up in agony;
their virgin hearts learned hate.
Traitor! they shot, much like cross-bows,
the act my only trait!
So we could eat! So we could live!
But they took not a bite.
Hunger drained from their stomach-sieves;
they made the bird alight
upon my murdering shoulders
as a symbol of guilt,
its neck a necklace around mine,
smearing the blood I spilt.
With one shot I was off my throne.
I was less a captain
and more of a feathered headstone.
Curse what I was wrapped in!
It drew blame for all our troubles,
and thus Odaceus.
I was dead wind, doldrums, ice, numb…
the sting of frozen piss!
The gusts were made by albatross,
they claimed, so as to soar,
so with the callous bolt I tossed,
sails emptied f’rever more!
Scorn was all they did as the world
The louts hung me out a porthole,
I had view of the horizon.
I spied through fog and mist
a hulk, ferry to dark Zion:
crewed by one feared, one kissed.
What should have been derelict rang
vesper bell nonetheless,
and all our eyes went overboard…
and here I must confess
I was almost glad to see her,
though not her companion,
peeling like an onion,
only halting alongside ours.
Light poured out of its holes
and from between Rest’s exposed ribs
while Play-at-Rest did dole
with a flick of like bony wrist
three-and-twenty young dice.
Seemed I was not saved by our tryst;
she did not roll me twice.
They played our fates as a wager,
over shouts of protest.
Rest cackled when he won the lot,
but she made a request:
that we be allowed to struggle
as he took our chest songs.
She watched my glorified seagull,
hinted I play along
as if I knew just as she did
that only I would thrash
to keep my body thrash-able,
still begging for the lash.
Death spared her ask but no time more
as he lifted pale hand.
Souls ascended through mouthy door:
a slam-and-creaking band.
My now-transparent friends whizzed by
like ghostly bolts themselves
as their slack-ed bodies collapsed
like overburdened shelves.
Into the fog their ghosts escaped;
mine tickled up my throat.
About my neck solution draped,
so knew Calliopso.
My bassoon could not breach my flesh;
it never breached before.
Like a wine-skin the bird could hold
until down my throat poured
that deep sound I have always been.
Its open beak touched mine
as if I kissed my distant queen.
Bassoon played on both spines.
The albatross was overhead,
like I drank from a pipe.
Death stiffened me as I waited
for song’s return to tripe.
Up, down, through me, through it, to me
my spirit did wash back.
Both Rest and Play-at-Rest looked pleased
when my limbs resumed slack.
Their battered shipwreck receded
and took with it my men,
leaving me nothing but their shells
and ship that couldn’t mend
a complete drain of its lifeblood
as it did injuries.
Our final note would be my thud
on naval history.
Both the gods were just out of sight,
their own ideas of my demise.
Perhaps I’d take to wing
as albatross when noose became
Pliades and his neck:
a pet that Play-at-Rest did tame
to squawk at call and beck.
O why did she have to love me?
Damn her sly blessing winks;
Her affection claims me as hers:
smooth sailing full of kinks.
She never played when others did,
so I faked my way too.
She loved the way I smartly hid
and preserved my life through
Rest’s enforced breath. I saved life up,
rationing it for now,
So I could do what? Be what? Who?’
Not across strings, but a gesture,
of monogamous adventure.
Anne and George were grinning.
Best man Zach had missed her entrance;
the band approached his cue.
Urging the swab to hurry up,
he tracked them through the pews.
The happy couple distracted
the old man just as much
while his twitching lips re’nacted
twice-swallowed spirit’s touch
that tasted of dead albatross
and a silent future.
‘Calliopso and Thanomin
left me slack-winged tutor
and not one more for company.
Alone with hunger, cold…
Thirst rounded out my litany
on this sea of fool’s gold.
Water, water was everywhere!
It was all I could think!
The water, it was everywhere…
but not a drop to drink!
Below the decks I did retreat
to escape taunting brine,
yet as I made stair into seat
I learned which fate was mine,
for now my ship had stowaways
who had burrowed through wood
and made themselves a leaking home
in ev’ry crack they could.
Ghastly creatures had ascended
from ev’ry darkened depth.
Together their instincts blended
with fears that vermin kepth.
With them Odaceus was joined;
we were survivors all.
We loathed and became each other,
stared eye-stalk to eye-ball.
All that remained of my lush world
was what gruesomely crawled
at my feet, slithered and unfurled
when desperation trawled
Rest’s raking fingers through the sand.
Parasites, sucking chain,
one toothed sucker latched to the next;
some rasped without a brain.
They twitched about in slimy grout,
all pocks represented,
like the shape-shifter parceled out;
her forms all lamented
that they too starved in their own gel,
drank diminished humors
from neighbors who together wept
into salty tumors.
Suddenly they thrashed aquiver
and climbed my withered limbs.
On my collar crashed their river
and gave my bird a trim.
Clicking teeth stripped albatross bare,
feather from flesh from bone.
This loosed the skeleton, which fell,
left me lighter alone.
Their gnawing gave epiphany
to symphony’s last man:
guilt was just gods’ antipathy.
I totally outran
the obligation as the last
low mortal to draw breath.
Those who drew value from my shame
had all succumbed to Death!
Without my prey as my anchor
I was faster than b’fore,
and my belly full of rancor
could hurdle any chore.
Bottom-feeders free to wallow,
I steadfastly emerged
from the bow-els of my vessel
to write a rebel’s dirge.
Cunning inspiration hammered
I’d compose ramshackle glamour,
raise some un-dead camels
so they’d bear my beastly burden
as I soldiered and trekked
to a new more welcoming world
where I’d gladly shipwreck!
Comrades’ bodies were half the tools
that could revivify
and again steer this ship of fools;
all I had do was pry
open mouths and hold them over
a small ship-shaper noise.
The bassoon in me made me whole;
logic’lly they’d be toys
if occupied by drips and creaks,
what were less than music.
With straining grunt the ropes did speak,
which b’longed in muscles thick
and dare I say, I do, ropey!
Thus I made them swallow,
with both my hands around their jaws,
trav’ling’s noisy tallow.
Just as from me, to bird, to me,
I foraged for these notes
and composed haunting heresy.
Up staggered my turncoats
who abandoned silent faction
in favor of hard work.
They could not speak; their eyes were gray.
I saw within this quirk
that they’d obey their king again,
despite no albatross!
Cold hand did heave, cold knee did bend,
with oars we rowed across
crashing ice far beyond the map.
Beyond page’s border,
and by now off the music stand,
I withstood this torture.
Play-at-Rest feared this composer,
she would forever more!
‘til Death decomposed her-’
Part Movement, First of Four
The ceremony had begun;
the bride clutched a bouquet.
Caldwin could be there in seconds,
before clarinet bray,
but the mariner still ranted,
and he thought these rants true.
If his passage had been granted,
and undeath had sailed through
from one world and to another,
then Death nipped at his tale
and could arrive at any time,
choke wind from harbor sails
and set his sights on wedding-guests!
And ‘til death do them part’
could come while they were still in vests,
leave bodies strewn as art
since he preferred hushed mediums.
‘Why did you choose this place!?
Choose me? How does all of this end?’
There was pain on his face
as the old man struggled to speak.
Pale as a jellyfish,
and borrowing clarinet squeak,
he concluded treatise
on oceanic symphony.
not for the man who never worked
until his final stint
in that sea of ice-cluttered dark.
All things faded and blurred.
My swimming mind struggled to hark,
but Stave’s verses lacked words.
The walking pluck of cross-bow string,
what had been Noisicaä,
moved past me deaf and unaware
this was not Caesura.
Music, music was everywhere!
Yet bittersweet flavor…
Music, music was everywhere!
Yet no note to savor.
Row! I roared with last living score.
Calliopso was wrong!
I too took oar and blistered palm
to carry us along.
If only she had played for us
‘stead of sitting idle.
For then we could have made it, just
and passed this recital.’
His head jerked t’ward the wedding-band
as he winced through mem’ry;
his withering body now showed
toll of reality.
‘Lips unslaked! Ears bloomed in reverse!
We paddled through chaos
to free me from conductor’s curse,
to blow horns of legac-’
Something stopped him dead, but not quite,
not quiet, no not yet.
His stare became wide and empty,
twas hollowed by regret.
‘Black waters, thick ice of the void,
the lifeless edge of Stave.
Successful was her Death deployed;
she had the silence craved.
None here on Earth understand it:
you can drown in silence.
It floods your lungs and takes your scream…
all your wisdom past tense.
Yet I did breach this ghastly veil,
to blue skies familiar.
My crew took pails, began to bail
waters that had filled her.
Once overboard it did not mix,
but sat on top like oil.
When poked they didn’t blend, but roll,
to symphony most loyal.
These were not our skies or waters,
as nature evidenced,
not bounding main but main broader,
this ocean that was drenched!
We’d done it, but we needed land.
promised me shelter, sleep, love, food,
Days passed, yet we found solid ground,
but the ship-shaper failed
before she made it to the sound,
tipped faster than we bailed.
Despite no orders in my mouth
keeping thirst company,
I felt ev’ry hand on my back
in full democracy.
I was thrown the final distance
and tumbled through the dirt.
Turned and saw my first consequence
on this new and wretch’d Earth.
Spent friends consigned to Davy Jones,
vessel weary joined them.
It was clear we did not belong,
as they sank in tandem.
Somehow bassoon did yet survive
and stumble by a man,
but in speech found himself deprived
of timbred woodwind grand.
For symphony’s malingerer,
punishment fit the crime:
he could only hear my music
corrupted into rhyme.
Hence these verses given to you,
last to suffer my spittle spew,
give newlyweds my best.’
‘Why am I last? Are you unwell?
Please tell me what you mean!
I must know if it’s true; play loud!
If so, we make a scene!’
‘No one needs to know,’ he admitt’d
and shook his hanging head.
‘They say straitjacket ought be fitt’d
when I attempt to spread
the yarn of the ancient mar’ner.
Far and wide I’ve traveled.
I’ve been ignored, attacked, and called
pox when judges gaveled.
Compelled to tell those who listen,
though telling causes age,
I must tell them what I’m missing,
down from my gully stage.
Calliopso ignored the first
and last of countless times;
she loves this loon no more and hates
the looping of my rhymes.
I took up oar to save my life,
effort she detested.
Her true desire was stoic strife
from the love invested.
Her mischief no longer protects;
I am but an echo.
The rhyme shortens with each telling,
less symphony in show.
Entire ages, each a couplet,
did subsequently fade.
None will know how gods did buffet
Stave with lustful charades.
One certainty if I went on
is the last detail lost,
which here too flies effortlessly:
the soaring albatross!’
The second movement grew quite loud,
and Zach did look away,
saw a turned and frustrated crowd
expecting him today.
He turned back; mariner was gone.
Ocean gust whipped his dust
through the creases of his nice clothes,
stowing mariner’s trust
in the boy who rushed to groom’s side
to pretend all was well.
Regarding his absence none pried.
He pondered old man’s spell
late that night, drifting off to sleep.
Rhyme was gone when he woke,
like the mariner, like a dream,
but wisened oarsman stroke
was one of two things he retained.
Next was swab’s witticism;
he heard the wedding-band complained
of bassoon criticism.
2 thoughts on “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”