Friday, July 15, 2011

In the Khaliganus Isles

That being done, Kilduff put a sizeable hole in his bragot, wiped the spillings off his chin, and struck up again with his lute and descanted thus:
            In the Khaliganus Isles when their God-King dies
            His wives they do themselves murder
            On the seventh day post-mortem
            In a glade gathered all of them
            Encircled  awaiting the sun
            With curved blades their necks
            At first light lay them open
            Their shades whither their life's blood stains the grass
            And, lo one day one balked and did hinder
            Her hand her knife she did stay
            And her sister-wives' eyes they did follow
            This girl's retreating form as it was swallowed
            By the mountains as they slipped away
            What anger in those eyes what envy what defeat
            What cold heart could bear witness
            And not pity to see them meet
            Their doom in such a manner in such a setting in such distress
            Not forsaking the one who fled
            For before day's end
            The villagers made sure that she, too, was dead

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Mortal Blue

Their band, having finished this latest tune, gave out a bawdy cheer and settled into a spell of conversation.  Meantimes, Israel and Duncan, their purses heavy from their shares of the bold venture from which they'd just returned, and their stomachs empty and their spirits light, had set for themselves a course to draw at least to their bar-shipmates aft quarterdeck for drink, it being impossible to draw even with or overtake them. Whilst the fellows had carried on, carpenter and apprentice had doubled their efforts, matching two ales for every one the salts before them drank, and by now their sails were half-filled with a pleasant wind.

With the room somewhat subdued, now the sound of a lute from one of Gerakis' back rooms carried through to them. It was a devilish strain, like as if it were from some dark, unfathomable continent. It compelled the soul and haunted them, though, if pressed, they could not say the effect was altogether distressing, rather that they would follow it, though it were the Dark Lord himself strumming the chords, through black tempests across unknown seas.

Then a voice like a hurricane began to sing, and Duncan, though mesmerized as were they all, thought he recognized it, and rose from the bar to discover with his eyes if what his ears told him was true, the song being thus:

                    The night I was born
                    The moon turned a fire red
                    Of a gypsy's scorn
                    Under a bad sign was I bred
                    And my mother cried
                    And my father, too
                    It can't be denied
                    You've got a spell on you

                    Up from the dust of the Earth
                    Did that first man spring
                    It weren't no natural birth
                    The Hands of God wrought a curs-ed thing
                    With a heart to burn
                    For love untrue
                    And flesh to turn
                    A mortal blue

                    See it written in the stars
                    Hear that whispering wind
                    Feel the thunder in your heart
                    Lord, you know it's the end

Duncan stood in the doorway leaning against the post and saw that his ears did not deceive him. The player of the lute and the singer of the song was his old shipmate, Kilduff, whom he had not seen since they had sailed together to Cathay many years ago. Duncan made to hail him, but his gesture was missed as Kilduff struck up again another song that was more dirge and chant that soon had them all who heard it yet again in thrall.

                   We'd just gone down below decks
                   And settled in our bunks
                   When the ship began to pitch and roll
                   In a great and powerful swell
                   Our captain's voice
                   With all his might he did yell
                   Down the fo'c'sle
                   Loud and clear did we hear
                   "All hands topside that love their lives
                   "And will heave and will strive
                   "To see another year
                   "For the sea this night she's angry, some tar
                   "Has scoffed and scorned her
                   "Now she's thrown at us this storm
                   "And our dear sweet ship will founder
                   "If ye boys ye don't bound yer
                   "Carc'ses aloft this instant to save her."
                   What choice had we but to follow
                   The command of our captain so dire
                   Sure as the sea finds its way through the hawsehole
                   The laggard riles the master's ire
                   And but only conspires
                   With the gale to consign to the deep one and all.
                   Lay to, did we, to the topsails and royals
                   With our marlinspikes to reef and take in
                   With the sky all aboil
                   Flinging lightning and hail
                   Our masts in the maelstrom did shiver
                   On her side did our poor ship roll over
                   By but a splinter spared the yardarms did not injure and scar
                   The sea's foamy surface
                   Hope sank and fear rose to roil in our gullets
                   We hung from the spars and dangled from the gunwale
                   No footing sure, no purchase level
                   Four men lost we to the delight of the devil
                   Yet our captain remained at the wheel
                   And denied all our calls to strike masts
                   "Haul, men!" yelled he, "Haul the brace
                   "If on her keel ye don't want to dance!
                   "Square the main yard all fast!"
                   We hauled and choked and our captain cried with ardor
                   "If ye don't haul it's murder!"
                   And someone replied, "She's paying off, sir!"
                   She rose slowly with the wind abaft her beam
                   She lurched and jerked herself free from that deadly grasp
                   That held us all in darkness
                   Till the Fates saw fit to smash that hasp
                   And she righted herself and the seas effervesced into cream
                   And the storm lost heart and faded like an evil dream.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Milk Maid Cometh

At the conclusion of the song, all sat silent as if in a dead calm, the wind having abandoned their sails, and them left staring into their ales, when another of their number threw back his head and let go with a Hey! Hey! Hooooo....! and began to sing, and the rest of them did join with him in the midpoint of the first verse, and this their song:

                        In the morning dew
                        I did I spy
                        A pretty lass a walking
                        And in the pails across her shoulders she bore
                        Milk filled to the brim a sloshing

                        I asked her where
                        Oh, where was she bound
                        So early in the morning…she said…
                        To the market, sure, in yonder town
                        And showed no sign of slowing…and I said…

                        Let me carry your pails
                        And be you my wife
                        Quick now the day is dawning
                        She slapped my face
                        But her eyes held a wicked trace
                        Then o’er the hills were we rolling

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Israel's First Call to Port, Part III

And now their band began yet another tune of minor tone, though the tempo were somewhat livelier than the last.

I left my native soil a reckless man
Bound for where lust is law
But found toil asea too much akin
To what befell curst Jonah

If ye be wise as wise are ye
Who'll take the word from me
Ye’ll do best to stay home and covet not
Those barbarous coasts to see

No good befalls a man who seeks
And finds no better place
No civil customs to be learned
Where the Lord bestows no grace

The words of songs can never show
A woeful path only tell
Of hindsight perfect hard gained to bestow
Dark ills having long ago befell

Fair warning heard carries not the same weight
As the lesson of disaster un-averted
Nor carefree days be worth more than gold in their freight
As safe harbors harrowingly earned

Before you stand I a man who’s been
Blown down by the winds of all oceans
Yet still naught can do I despite all I’ve seen
Than beg you pay heed my confessions

Monday, April 25, 2011

Israel's First Call to Port, Part II

The reciter, upon finishing, drained his tankard and pitched it into the fireplace, whereupon his shipmates, forming up in single file, shuffled solemnly by the hearth and did likewise. The barkeep snapped his fingers and several stewards sprang forth into action to replenish them all with drink. The task done, the party commenced once again their singing, yet the somber mood lingered.

                        I hired me aboard of a whaling ship
                        Bound for the Arctic seas
                        Where the cold winds blow through the frost and the snow
                        And Jamaican rum would freeze.
                        And worst to bear I’d no hard weather gear
                        For I’d lost all my money ashore
                        ‘Twas then that I wished that I was dead
                        And I’d gone to sea no more

            Israel marveled at their behavior, it seeming exceedingly strange to him, and Duncan said it was the Jack-Tar Rite of Confession, more ancient, and at least no stranger than, the Eucharist.
            “Generally, it is the case,” said he, “that the confession is not of him who spake it, but of a shipmate—and at that a dear friend—who was lost at sea, though it is not unheard of for to confess your own dark tale, for then, it is believed by some, that you have been given the gift of the second wind of Divine Providence, your slate having been washed clean by that sad sacrifice of your shipmate to the heaving of the Seven Seas. But more’s of the opinion it’s a curs-ed act what surely will hasten the blighting cozener who done it on his way to the Abyss. Of course, we being, by nature, a superstitious lot, are also born gamblers and ever an eye peeled for adventure. We pray to God and the Fates, faces uplifted, for mercy and safe passage, meantimes on bended knee casting dice against the foc’sle bulkhead.”

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Israel's First Call to Port, Part I

He had the look of a sailor many months asea, with hardly the sniff of dry land or the sharp crying of birds for comfort, and jaundiced of eye, skin the deepest basted brown and leathery, knotty and wiry of build, with a tangled, unkempt, grimy beard, with rope-burned smooth and shiny palms, and barnacle calluses, nails black with grungy toil, lips sun-cracked and salt-spray dry, but with a voice true sang he like a starling, with feet a-shuffling, shifting one to the other, the ship’s memory still strong in them.
            And so he was a seaman, and his ship the Midnight Mary, so named after that ancient Sovereign of the Realm, whom legend tells, wrested power from her husband cruel, the king, and his brothers, and his bastard sons, in the dark, wee hours, with poison and the sword. She, three-masted, a twenty-gunner, fleet, though heavy laden, had just called to port, having doubled Hope and Horn, and our young sailor ashore, and he hailed from land-locked country thick with wheat, barley, and corn, and nary a lake nor a stream wider than three gang planks lain side-by-side even was to be seen swelling its banks and raging under heavy rains in that richly soiled country, and the sea beckoned him, through tales heard and tales read, and Orion called him, and Polaris, and Crux, too. And they called him Israel.
            He had for his companion the ship’s carpenter, his own master, Duncan, oak-stout and just as swarthy, and he knew the city well, that had stood upon its hill commanding the bay below nigh on a thousand years, having called there to port more times than he could count, his days long been spent a sailor.
            “If you can abide,” lilted he in an off-minor falsetto, “let the hurdy-gurdy play…Now, young Israel, our first order of business is to get us clean and trimmed. And second, without much further delay, to get us laid, and that good and proper. And then tattoos to mark the occasion, as you, me son, only have your first call ashore the very once, and after they but all roll into one. So I know, do I, just the place for to accomplish these all.”
            And Israel’s tender face, beneath the crusty beard, blushed, and his ears burned red with the quickening of his heart. But he turned his eyes to the sun, marking its place above the clear horizon. Today at last, thought he, I become a man.
            Duncan led on from the docks through the pulley lines and longshoremen a-heaving, past the rows upon rows of barrels of whale oil, bales of cotton and sundry other cloth stuffs, chests filled with all manner of spices, past the fish monger’s stalls and storehouses all dockside, passing ever farther into the pressing throngs of the city, through main streets and alleys, past tanneries and slaughterhouses, past sweat shops filled with looms and nimble fingers, until the sounds of singing and drunken revelry they found, even so early with the sun not yet nigh the yardarm.
            “Though the sun shine or the moon, the flow of liquor heeds to neither, nor the sweet embracing of whores,” Duncan said. “The sailor’s coin greases all, and by our sweat the world spins freely upon its axis, though the sun never finds comfort from the glint of the Empire’s Eye.”
            They came to an alley cut wide for trams and carriages and turned down it. On one side stood a stable, upon the other a house having a long porch with a window of frosted glass and GERAKIS’ stenciled across the length of it from the nearest post to the double door that served as an entrance.
            From inside, they heard a bawdy chorus sung out so:

                        She fed me shrimp and caviar
                        Upon a silver dish
                        From her head to her waist was just to my taste
                        But the rest of her was fish

And a squeezebox, weathered and athwart of tune, kept the melody as the sailors’ voices rang out into the alley. Duncan and Israel stepped through the doors and up to the bar.
            “Two whiskies and two stouts, lad,” said Duncan to the barkeep. “And two stools at the barber’s when you’ve got them free.”
            The sailors about then finished their tune and struck up another that began:

                        The bottle stands as empty
                        As it was filled before
                        Take my hand now, lassie
                        We’re bound to get us more

And when this tune were finished, one of their number who sat a bit alee to the rest, yet his manner and visage giving the impression of a soul shrouded in dark clouds, stood up all of a sudden, and banging his tankard upon his table, splashed his ale about him everywhere, the suds expiring upon the table and floor like the briny foam dissipating in the wake astern ships, causing his companions to fall silent. It was clear from the way they regarded him they held him in some respect as they awaited some sign from him, and thus they were rewarded with the following slurred, yet steady, oration:

                        At the roundabout in the center of town
                        My love I spied under the starry night sky
                        With her arms twined the neck round
                        Of a feller renowned for stealing
                        The loves of other men’s eyes.
                        And homeward bound sped I and drunk
                        Did I ramble till next day did I
                        With my knife lay low that feller and lass
                        In their slick blood and went a sailing
                        O’er the ocean’s dark foaming tide.

                        But ne’er could I forget my love’s voice shrilling
                        A pleading, Jim, don’t do it! she screaming
                        And my eyes seeing nought but red
                        Heart filled with the murdering demon
                        And when it were done mine poor eyes
                        Unclouded I prayed for her soul
                        And buried my woes
                        With rum and the toil of the sea. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Gang Way!

Aye, ye crusty landlubbers. 'Tis time to weigh anchors and set sail. The top gallants are full o' promise and the hold a gaping. All hands aloft! Helm guide us to our doom!