by C.S. Thompson
You cast a heavy shadow. Years will pass
Yet none who knew will ever lose the sight
Of one bright, piercing eye. You walked the world
In such a wild and vivid way, your mark
As potent as a rune on all you touched.
The rider of a winter storm, the wolf
Of wind and water and the wizard-king
Of salt and spray, an alchemist of song,
Who turned the darkness seen at Jacob's Pond
To fearsome music, and the saddest plans
The gods prepared for madmen into notes
Of such weird beauty that they seem to ring
Between the moments of this floating life
In haunted echoes. Not for you the pale,
Transparent destinies of modern man:
The doubts, the smallness and the final fall
From very little into not at all.
Your failures and your victories were large.
In everything you did you waged a long,
Determined bout with heaven, till the dawn
Lit both of you to laughter. Now you're gone.
An old, unbeaten rebel, taken back
To somewhere far away, beyond our dreams.
But every now and then it almost seems
That I can hear your voice. And what it says
Is, "Hold the course. The fight is far from done."
So, Captain, what is next? Do ghosts advise?
I've waged a war myself, these many years.
And yet, before you left us, you'd been cleansed
And purified by suffering so harsh
It almost broke you, into something new-
A calmer man, if never quite content.
You spent your last year pondering the past,
The things that made you and the things you made.
With pipe in mouth you watched the seasons change
While, flickering behind your eyes, the tales
Of lore and legend leaped like dancing sparks.
You loved to tell those stories! And, in all,
You featured as the hero. But your voice
Wove such a spell of magic round the words
That legend came to life for us. And now,
Tall tales and all, you've fallen into sleep.
I never wept except for that first night.
It didn't seem correct, somehow. I knew
You left this world as you'd have wanted to,
The ocean wind behind you and the spray
Blown cold against your face, the dark green sea
In all its ancient fury close beside,
And one task only- race, and try to win.
You didn't quite have long enough. But then,
There's no one here who does or ever will.
And every day your shadow knows me still.
Yes, I was scared of you. That's true enough.
You had a madness deep behind your eyes,
That blazed sometimes, and kindled, deep in me,
A madness of my own. Your legacy
Is complicated and its roots are dim,
And knotted up as tight as tangled hair.
I look back on these deeds of mine and find
Much sorrow and my own dark share of shame,
And here and there a little quiet pride.
Were you the same? And did you face the night
With sick self-loathing for the things you'd done,
Or did you never dare to hear that voice?
It's not my wish to judge you. All your life
You struggled with the darkness, as have I.
I know the language of the night too well
To fail to recognize its mark in you,
And recognition is forgiveness. Still,
My task, I think, is this- to give my sons
The best of you and leave those things behind
That harmed us both. In this, I'll honor you.
Good blades will bend, yet still come back to true,
And hold the keenest edge. To forge a sword,
White heat is needed. So you forged my life,
And poured your lore into the blue-black steel
Of what I am. Now, dip me in a stream
And leaves will part against my sharpened edge.
God willing, my own children will be blades
As sharp as I am, but will have the skill
Of teaching leaves to turn aside, unharmed.
I'll hold the ground you conquered and move on
To claim new lands as well. I owe you that.
You climbed up from the pit to make a life
Worth singing of, a story to be told.
And if I tell of darkness with the light,
My Captain, please remember, Truth is One
And undivided and I cannot sing
A portion of the truth; there's no such thing.
So here I stand before the salt-blue sea,
My eyes averted from the open sky.
The breeze is cold, and breakers crash and roar,
While birds cry lonely omens. Here it comes.
I face the task you faced with me, and hope
That I'm equipped to do it. But I know
The hawk-like strength of all our kin is mine,
And all that's left is just to face my task
With bold, high spirit and with love's command.
And I will tell my children, so they'll know-
Their father's father was the kind of man
Who comes into this world, not every day
But once in many years. A wolf of wind
And ocean wave, a wizard of the sea,
An alchemist of music and a man
Who fought and didn't cease his fight until
The ocean waves closed over, cold and still.
And I will tell them also, what is true-
The core of what they see in me is you.