T for the Tillerman

Under the mast of sleep, night breathes
through weave, teasing down
in spots and whispers
on heel, bow, on back of knee. His agile hands
press lids and lash
the barrel stays, these ribs
a sturdy frame
that hasn’t buckled yet. Just above
the place my spine
draws across ocean’s verge
a horizon line, the cumulus parts. Stars consolidate
and then disperse making constellations
of text we feign to understand
as we flounder in the dark.

He fixes our place with sextant and connects
the dots. Contours on the map
of me begin to align, his fingertips
hinting at sentience. Order. At something more.
He marks the way
in code and my skin stirs
as it recognizes an R
or perhaps a D.
Where did I drift? Is that a V?
I missed a passage, I want to say. Go back.

The tide is strong. It drowns
out speech and weighs down my cheek
with sand. I don’t yet trust his touch
to chart our course and so in hush I try
to decipher the braille he makes
on me. That shape feels
like an eel trace. A silent S?
Eight? Infinity? He could tip us
over the edge of a forever
Mobius strip
yet I give way
because sleep ties its rigging
to my eyes and draws the knots
in tight. He writes on

the starboard side as I list
roughly north. Strokes across
a restive sea
shape incantation in argot I may have known
before the paired mitochondria
we were
parted ways. 43 million years we have skimmed
the planet’s skin seeking
a lost shape and song, seeking
the only tongue

matched
to the task of whispering tattered lyrics
back together. An erasure
now, a rumble like mirth. From my lumbus
he wipes away
a what? Mistake? A risk
reconsidered? Still, he writes on.
Rough beams of me
soft from so long in salt
air give way to the press of his stylus
and bear the name
he carves
as if it has always been
mine and I
his. His spelling
casts me off into current. I unfurl
and ferry the rare cargo
over fathoms
and night.
 

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