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ISSUE:  Winter 1990

This morning, arriving from Santos, they met
the Delaware’s floating ice. The river pilot
climbed aboard and sighed for Brazilian beaches,
then talked wind chill. Immigration rehashed
last week’s blizzard.


            At anchor till Monday.
The bosun and old A.B., securing gear, can see
a scatter of crows fighting the wind. Ice chunks
slide downriver a yard from the end of the gangway.
When his motor lifeboat with off-watch crew goes in,
the bosun steers to miss the biggest chunks.
Two other ships at anchor look deserted.
At the Customs pier, old snowdrifts harden.
The bosun hikes uptown, returns, repairs
the coal-stove damper in the Customs shack,
sits next to the stove and reads old magazines
till nearly dark. When he makes the run back out,
half speed, a loose slush slaps the sides of the boat.

The wind is cold as the kiss on his neck nape
(nine ten days back) of a Santos smuggler’s gun.
The dozen returning crew are quiet—old fireman
trying to light a wet cigarette, cook killing a pint.
Then Sparks in his too thin windbreaker, first man
up the gangway, stumbling.

             Ice taps the hull,
insistent, like Santos toughs the bosun
would just as soon forget, or darting crows
that worry an owl. If the tapping should stop,
and the overtime-hungry bosun on watch till dawn
is not asleep on his feet, he may clap
his gloved hands and stamp to the rail
to investigate, or may just stay where he is
in the lee of the midship house, and sink deeper
into the scratchy collar and think of coffee:
scalding black, smooth white cup, steam
rising like breath. Over the sleeping city
the blown moon rising.


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