Posted: October 3, 2010 in Poetry
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A modern, interpretive adaptation of Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau Ivre”

I am drifting on a deep green river, under a turtle-shell sky, in the bittersweet, mid-summer nightfall. I can still see the men on the shore, their naked bodies painted red, white and blue and nailed to the dock’s tall black timbers by patriots. My guide ropes were slashed from the same timbers, leaving me to drift alone in this river, at the mercy of the world around me.

It is easy to lose interest in my career when there are no ropes to contain me. No need for a full load of lumber from British Columbia, tennis shoes from Indonesia, or wang-dangs from doodle dandy. No need for concern with the feelings of a strange crew. They are unbearable to me now. My cargo is freedom. My crew consists of my many selves.

No men to pull me with puppet strings, it is easy to forget about the lumber, shoes, ropes, red-white-and-blue bodies — it is easy to forget about the other boats, easy to drift from day to day, through scorching sunshine, heaving weather, waves lashing my sides and tongue-bathing my deck. I drift with tides, a recreational vessel on my way to an exclusive oceanfront destination.

Seasons pass. Winter wraps its harsh, bony hands around my belly and makes me feel like a child who is choked by fear for the first time. I run like soft ice cream from a Vegas high-rise fire and never look back. I run across waves like a steroid-charged  Olympian until I am declared champion of the sea and awarded a well-earned asterisk — I am one with every molecule of water covering two-thirds of the planet. I break with every wave and pull myself together to break again and again. I do not fight the waves: I howl along with flutes they carved from the penis bones of great white whales.

I am a courageous cork bobbing on the crests of 30-foot waves, rolling into their valleys, exploring their caverns and spinning in their foaming glory holes. I am a showgirl’s champagne cork popped at a presidential ball, rolling down the drain and into a churning graveyard, where the ocean’s dead roll over and over, tumbling until their souls are polished, producing the unmistakable sound that is heard in every conch shell that has ever been held to an ear.

Ten days since I’ve seen or smelled land or any other vessels. No strangers’ eyes to wonder why I am alone. Wind and rain play ancient lullabies on my hard skin and I cannot resist waking the voices inside me.

Given the choice of eating a lemon or not eating a lemon, many children will eat the lemon. Life is not always sweet. The ocean water that filled my wooden body was neither sweet nor lemony. It tasted like a metallic blend of nautical devices, middle-aged waste from cruise ships, decomposing underwater vegetation, and battalions of raw sea monkeys in a salty soup of green eternity. The water filled the inside of my shell, burst several ribs, loosed my rudder and anchor, and vomited in my face until I was stained by a green martini that was all juice and no olive. Drink me. I am available.

I drift as the sea drifts, as the waves lead one another to the shore, every seventh wave a bit larger, stronger, more intense than the others, as if it possesses a mathematical consciousness capable of qualitative judgements. That’s absurd! A wave’s numerological capacity has no more to do with qualitative judgements than the words marching across this page have to do with their grand finale. I argue with myself and win every time. I am drifting through a liquid poem destined for an artificial paradise that waits somewhere in the constellations and mirrors that are scattered across the inner surface of an overturned bowl, defended by slingshots and a team of attorneys appointed by Pluto and patented by Disney. I look into the eyes of drowned men passing by, floating to the next attraction.

Teams of drunken monkeys paint the sky with shotguns and live tuna, scarabs stuff balls of shit into their pockets and crawl across the sky, the orchestra builds to a mad crescendo, flurries of strings, free beer and bonfires, dancing nymphs taking flight, the full horn section blows the doors down, throws more gasoline on the fire, and the red whiskey sun rises over battlefields and boardrooms. Bring the curtain down, take me down with it, take me over, take me, take me now.

The night sky shattered into ten thousand puzzle pieces divided by sharp lines made entirely of white light. It disappeared and reformed with a new puzzle every few seconds, all night long. Water tornadoes climbed from waves like turbo-charged clouds of dancing saviors, twirling and shimmying across the water. It was an average storm.

Dawn launched a million doves. They were the size of boys and girls with big, graceful wings carrying them over an innocent new horizon. It was real and I watched them for an entire day. I watched solar and lunar eclipses without protection, stood atop skyscrapers and felt earthquakes roll the earth’s skin like a cheap carpet, and chased hurricanes up and down Bourbon Street. I saw waves fall like King Louie and Napoleon, like Nixon and Wall Street, I witnessed waves crashing like the Roman Empire and Constantinople — I closed my eyes and still viewed the imminent descent and inescapable suffering of all sentient beings. It was much luckier than anyone ever imagined.

Deep green dreams of snowy nights and slow kisses from my Aunt Bernice. The sea is a fickle partner and everybody needs to dance. Fluid dreams dissolve in primary pools on the floor. Neon melodies dripping from play-doh candlesticks, clouds of flavored incense passing like thoughtful expressions in a dying hawk’s eyes. I can learn to dance alone.

I am riding with gangs of waves crashing the shoreline’s party, invading cold sentinel boulders that protrude from the surf like petrified fingers of giants buried long ago. I ride the waves for months and appreciate the individual character of every mound of moving water — the personality that began as an embryonic swell just beneath the surface, crested in a glorious, transparent azure curl that peaks in a foaming cloud and leaves a sticky corpse on the beach, its soul rushing back to the deep to be born again.

I ram and butt and slam against states of commonwealth and consciousness. I penetrate fields of exotic flowers and look into eyes dressed in human skins. I see the under side of the rainbow — the hard and cold side that continues beneath the ground, a semi-circle of blind melancholy below to balance the technicolor symphony above. I’m going deeper, somewhere under the rainbow.

Secrets unfold in swamps of rotting serpents and fermenting foliage, biblical secrets foretold by apocryphal prophets, alchemical dramas portrayed by voodoo minstrels, absurd axioms transforming flesh to slime one molecule at a time. Boiling water in the center of calm, green scum, the singular stench of aging fluids from bodies unknown — Rasta queen’s torso, jaw of redneck ass, raw blood and urine from supreme ghetto philosopher poets — I am marinating in fundamental secrets and fecal stew from a 6 billion anonymous donors.

Beetles consume a poodle’s corpse, suns devour glaciers, waves are gilded by the moon and waxed by western winds, Embers fall from tortured heavens to adorn the fractured hulks of ships mopping the ocean floor with stringy remnants of masts and sails, devoured like small perfumed dogs falling from miniature trees into eternal darkness.

If I could show the children the fishes darting inside the wave; if I could teach them to throw their cargo over the side and sing without ropes, we could drift together with the emerald eels singing and flashing like sleek meteors in the moonless night, large fish covering harmonic overtones while little fish keep a steady beat. Rose petals lilted down from a flying bouquet, a gentle breeze lifted me from the water like a virgin bride and returned me to my dream of children and fishes that sing.

The ocean is my benevolent keeper. I offer my life to freedom, and it is taken without a blink. I give myself to the river of consciousness that binds all men and women and beasts and trees and mountains and oceans and I am swallowed like a gulp of stale air. I cast my soul to the sober universe and now I have a soggy, intoxicated soul. The ocean takes me and rocks me and whispers sweet nothings in my ear. The ocean tells me I’m beautiful and it will always love me and it brings me invisible flowers with long green stems. I worship every drop of water.

My body ravaged, turned into battered boards strung together by rusty metal ribs, I rolled on my side and become a floating island. The green-eyed birds gather on me, squealing and pecking at each other like politicians, depositing piles of stinking dung that grow into a huge mound atop my broken body. The birds drift with me, building nests of dung, raising families that created more dung, until the mound stood more than one mile high above the rolling waves. I drifted for months, tangled in fishing nets, fading further from existence — a mile-high bird shit memorial to disembodied intention.

Swirling high over the waves, a winged boat hurled through the violet sky and above the birds and clouds by a nameless hurricane, whirling apex with moon and stars, I am falling, falling, falling a mile underwater to deep green invisibility. I am a boat submerged. Misplaced refugee. Unfit vessel at rope’s end. Drunk with ocean lust and disorderly as a double-shot of tequila with a Vicodin kicker…I don’t know if I am awake or dreaming. Am I still a boat?

I am free and I am soaring through sweet green haze, piercing the phosphorescent sky and returning to my private depths with impossible promises, secret handshakes and pearls of great price — all soap for my soul, food for my transparent dog, sandwich spread for poets who work for advertising agencies, fungus dredged from the cleavage of the sun god’s toes, the crystal clear mucus that hangs like vertical spider webs from mint green clouds.

I have no compass, no sense of direction. My mind is spinning dizzy, trapped on an underwater carousel with a revolving assortment of electric circus animals — hippos adorned with colored lights, camels with neon flashing humps, laser-eyed owls, taser-tongued snakes covering the floor, fireworks fill the atmosphere, marching bands strike up a rousing rendition of Peggy Lee’s “Is that all there Is?” and pygmy chimps walk the gangplank with their lovers, holding hands, kissing, and ready for the fall.

I am shivering beneath the faraway cries of gods and monsters. They are roaring and moaning and screwing and beating each other miles away but it sounds like they are next door in the bathroom, under the toilet seat, ready to emerge and turn my world inside out. I beg the keepers of green tranquility to protect me. I want to go to heaven one more time.

Stars are islands scattered across insane ceilings in twisted buildings designed by a stoned cabalist. I am an island traveler, drifting away from every shore, away from every memory, an old doper boat following stars scattered across the stoned ocean, away from every reason for me to be. Where is my reservoir of inspiration? My desire for adventure? I am exiled and exhausted. I wait for gangs of green-eyed birds to carry me away.

The suns, moons, oceans and my many selves remain. They are sick of my whining. Dawn is dirty laundry corrupted by endless variations of disgusting aromatic ingredients. Twilight is a swarm of tiny needles poking through the darkness and penetrating my fingertips, foreskin and the bottoms of my metaphorical feet. I try to think about something that will provide a nanosecond of comfort — I imagine Love and red-hot skewers stab my heart, dry it in the sun, and feed it to hyenas before I can blow a kiss. I believe I am over-cooked. Stick me with a fork and bring out the spicy dipping sauce. I’m ready to go. Eat me on the way out.

I cannot bear the slavery of fundamentalism, the endless battles of greed and patriotism. I can no longer endure the stupidity of the majority, lowest common political denominators, and money always winning over reason, over compassion, over common everyday decency, Money is neither hope nor freedom. Money is ropes and cargo. Money is schedules and obligations. Money is the god and country that paints men and nails them to trees.

Where will I rest? Where will my ashes sink and become the protein of worms and nests of tiny animals? If I must rest someplace, I want to be at least the size of a finger, preferably a middle finger, just a modest scrap of wood that is conveniently located near an accidental pond. It would be nice if the pond was large enough to attract a small child who could kneel beside the puddle and find the scrap of wood. I would like to spend eternity there, in the mud.

After the rain, a boy launches a tiny boat across a small rainwater puddle. I am drifting under a turtle-shell sky, in the bittersweet mid-summer nightfall, unaware as he examines my existence with innocence and awe.


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