H & W Yard Numbers 400 and 401

If you go to Belfast Ireland, a short walk will bring you to the Harland and Wolff shipyards, where the Titanic and Olympic were built and launched in 1911.  They don’t build ships there anymore. The large yellow crane is just for show now. But at the mouth of the harbor is the modern angular building of the Titanic Museum, which stands out against the sea like a metallic iceberg.

The museum costs money, but behind it for no cost, you can wander out onto where the slipway’s once were- now large concrete floors in the earth. The museum has traced the dimensions of the two ships onto the surface, and when I followed it along with my feet, it felt small to me.

I used to trace the outline of the great liners in my notebooks, or on restaurant placemats in crayon when I was little. Running along the smoke funnels to the bridge, down the superstructure from the bow and beneath the waves to the stern to where that first mark on the paper began. Accents of smoke billowing back, waves crashing against the hull in ways that didn’t conform to perfect perspective, and in the distance the faint outlines of nondescript islands to give a sense of scale. I must have drawn hundreds of these when I was a kid. My biggest concern was the quality of my shading, all of which achieved with a number two pencil.   

The ships had originally entered my drawings from now worn out PBS tapes. I think they’re still somewhere in my mother’s house with piles of unwatched home videos from when my brother and I were kids. They are documentaries on the ships and the men who found their wrecks’ hundreds of feet below the surface. Though the tapes are well outdated by now, I remember sitting cross legged in the living room listening to the narrator drone on like the rumble of an engine somewhere below deck. Even name the Titanic still brings back memories of those muffled interviews stored on fading magnetic tape. I re-watched them recently and realized I still knew the sequence of the interviews and the musical interludes perfectly, even twelve years on. I remember my father used to sometimes watch with me.

On the slipway in Belfast I pictured the outlines drawn into the concrete suddenly rise into the grey sky. From beneath my feet seemed to spring riveters and scaffolding and the skeleton of the great ship not yet built, long before she would sink. I had escaped again to 1911. But now I was there, before the doomed vessel at dry dock, growing in the air of that pre-war optimism. Unmistakable and unsinkable. I felt like I was intruding on someone else’s childhood dream, not my own. It was a past I was so far removed from it almost seemed like fiction, and yet we now shared the same physical ground, the ship and I. A group of school kids wandered past, and it was a chilly spring day in Northern Ireland. I hoped none of them saw my eyes start to water, when I realized the ground was as much a grave as the childhood home of anyone is a grave of their younger self, piled high with VHS tapes and half filled sketchbooks. There are crayon drawings on placemats like blueprints of outdated designs. My mother didn’t have the heart to throw them away I think. The ice warnings were posted and were written. Sent across by wireless. Twin signals. They’d raised us and bathed us and kept us warm. In my twenties I could see where it’d gone wrong, but like yelling murder in sleep paralysis, my arms would not move, and my chest was filled with ice water. The time would not again return to me.

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I Waterlogged the Electric Kettle

Board games on the coffee table with the dual innocence where we once were as children,

but now soiled skin.

There’s too much baggage in our collective bedrooms. So start anew at six and seven. Benefits of skipping the younger years, maybe fashion someone that will share in your condition.

Throw open the sash after Christmas, a spring cleaning of sons. I should have noticed sooner,

but you covered your bases, assured me of the unchanging nature of things. I remember your embrace when I left for Ireland at the airport.

But of course it’s changing. And you knew that even then, since November or before. You delayed me- got to me first. Before I was standing at the sink, holding the electric kettle under the tap, when I noticed and forgot the water running cool over my hands.

The thought came then.

Replaced.

Replaced.

Replaced.

Some thoughts on my time abroad.

In some ways, I wish college and traveling abroad wasn’t sold to us as such a unanimously great thing. That is not to say that I regret my choice to travel to Ireland. However, this notion that traveling abroad will be “the time of your life” is utter bullshit. I suppose it’s more difficult to convey the message, “Go see the world, and yeah we’re not gonna lie, people you love will die, your home may or may not fall apart, and you’ll feel like you have nowhere to go back to. But you’ll grow so much in such a short time”. The articulation would be difficult on any brochure.

So in one sense, I have no regrets. But in another I am forced to admit that I am not happy, and have not been in some time. I’ve had my good moments sure. But they have been hidden in blank stares, and late at night, my mind wanders to visions of you breathing oxygen when the mitral valve in your heart gives out. In that moment, I will check to if my hands are still smaller than yours in those final moments just as they were in those first. I think of my mother, and her disdain. I think of my younger brother, and his arms larger now than mine,  with hints of topography in the scar tissue.

Heaney once called it “The Music of What Happens.” But how the fuck do you translate it? Am I expected to learn to sight read? But I’ll end the tortured metaphor where it lies. It doesn’t really matter, in much the same way that writing doesn’t matter. Not really anyway.

No matter what clever little words or enjambments I might conjure, I am left then with photographs taken of a young me with teeth I no longer have next to a snowman in Rhode Island. There is another of my brother and I amongst a pile of dead leaves. Wedding photos on Martha’s Vineyard after you both graduated the college I now attend. Kodak film. My mother’s camera she used in college. Acrylic sleeves in black faux leather albums. The frames are displayed on the mantle wherever it is you live now, or smashed by my mother on the front lawn you used to cut in the summer.

Word Association

Though the the street sleeper isn’t moving, his paperback lies beside him.

I have a paperback on music theory in my bag.

It is always late in the German supermarket, always an hour before closing.

Processed food can bring you home for a time.

I read somewhere that GIs in the 40s would trade all of their rations for Coca Cola,

to bring them home.

The sake drunk on the last night of the Yamato brought them home.

Ten-Go, like drunk nights with you in the light of the dorm room, talking of adolescent histories.

Was it the same theme? The same needless things young people say? In the drunk night between the watertight compartments. Shut in when she rolled to  port.

The water rumbling like my insides, gurgling through the catwalks and over causeways.

You know-

It’s been some time since I’ve seen the ocean.

Since Galway I think.

I was alone then- I stayed the night, and walked to the harbor in the hour before my train.

It was the closest I’d felt to home.

Freighter- Clyde Puffer.

Lost Liner- Empress of Ireland

Fairey Swordfish biplane- high above that miserable wreck brandishing an Iron Cross,

cresting the waves to make one last run before the Germans scuttle her.

Carry me back, in some form or another to when peace is declared,

and the Atlantic is hushed,

when I find my way back to where I am from.