Point of Departure, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, September, 1519, the Eve of an Ocean Voyage

By | 1 March 2018

The sails have a belly-full of siroccos,
Raging to fly if only the hawsers are not tied
To the catheads on the starboard.
The pulleys are creaking mad
And banging themselves to destruction
Against the masts but the boom
Is holding and will not be constrained
To do the wind’s bidding.
If we could give meaning to nature,
The wind wants us to fly to those beacons
On the horizon. Yet be still, my caravel,
Be still, even if the wind cannot,
For we will sail way past those fires
And their alluring shores, past where no sailor
Has been, where no pirate has dreamed.
We will sail not for the doubloon
–that’s for ordinary men to hunger for–,
But to satisfy this Odysssian longing to know
–the spice is only an excuse–
Strange shores and habits and tongues and arms,
Again not for glory–that’s for kings and princes
Whose hands are too soft to rig a mast.
Where is that Moluccan apprentice
Who will sweeten my tongue to the native people
At the end of the round earth?
So I don’t have to use steel in order to persuade
some recalcitrant minds.
You, there, at the crow’s nest,
Do you see Enrique coming?
Here at the mouth of the Guadalquivir river,
The bowsprit is pointing straight
Toward the autumn sky, where the galactic clouds
Are visible, a mirage even to the bravest helmsman.
Let’s first go around the globe itself, Enrique,
For it is round in spite of the priests—
I have seen its shadow on the moon–
Then you can come back to the ample bosom
Of your Moorish paramour.

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