The Brine-Breather
poems by John Haag



Should I invoke Vespucius or Colombo,
Lucky Lief, or the mariners of Tyre,
Or some anonymous Polynesian madman
Crouched in a scooped-out log? Should I pray:
Look down, Noah, Father of Navigation,
And mend my course? But to me, what are they
Who sailed in search of balm--or to escape?
He turns his sextant on occluded stars
Who seeks the mother of wounds--or, it may be,
For sutures where the end and beginning meet.


I sought that infamous rupture, that estranging
Moment, Cain's mark on a complicated ape . . .
For a man-in-half I found a man half-formed,
The sacrament of the conceiving brine
And the jellied cords that bind us to the sea.
I thought to reach the sea's center, a core,
Like the still eye of a storm, or a confluence
Of many rivers meeting mouth to mouth,
But I find as many hearts as habitants--
A center for each molecule of salt.


As the sound thickens through water, I remember
The braying of gulls in a world wide with sound
Above the cleaving surface, and I rise
Till I float where the wind and water split me once:
Though up to the lips in brine, I lived above,
In the lesser part, until I learned to pass
And live in a liquid world as well, to hear
The liturgy of a slow, tidal pulse,
Umbilical-- a rumbling in the blood
And through a brain that's nine parts ocean yet.

Copyright 1971 by John Haag.