What is it though?  That sound – like moving shale,
the dull, ceramic clink of oyster shells
or sharpened chitin, ticking on the hull.  I think

you know the shape of it – nine fathoms down,
and stirring in the silt.  And I’ve heard all about her –
I’ve heard that pliant waist gives way to scale

below the belt.  I’ve heard her voice is vinegar,
or salt ground in a wound, or eight bells tolled together
as you founder.  I’ve heard her battle ensign

is a square of black and gold, with a little
silver kiss for every barque she struck and sunk.
I heard you tacked her picture in the dark

above your bunk, and I heard you licked
her name around your bow.  I heard her little jinx
slunk up the gangway, and fizzed and fretted

in the ballast tank.  I heard you had her inked
in blue and black beneath the quay, with a swallow
for the journey, and a holdfast, and a rose,

and a wonky dagger squirming through a heart.
I  heard you laid her keel beneath the gantry,
that you eased her down the slipway with tallow,

train oil, soap.  I heard you carved her likeness
from a skate, and called her Jenny. I’ve seen
those piles of gutweed, folded over, piled high,

and yes, I’ve heard the stories of her hair –
how a man might lose his mind there, in the green,
trying to find the one green strand

that leads him home.  And there it is – that sound –
coaxing from the gullet of the whirlpool,
or rising up to meet you, as you go down

into the dark. There are no charts for this, no following wind,
and every course you plot leads back to her –
her formal thorns, her pole, her doldrum calm,

a lucid little scrum of weed and eels
that drifts and weaves in all the lawless currents
down below.  What is that, though?

That urchin, that sharp medicine, that bad star,
that marlinspike that worries at the heart
and its knotted fist.  I know the mind plays games –

how the ice makes flimsy pictures in the air
above the water.  But I have to wonder, Captain –
what trick of light or vision turned the girl

into the monster?  Because I heard there was a time
she wore your promise round her finger.
And I heard that when she left, she left it sitting

on the counter.  The dull click-clink of gold
as it meets formica; how the world can turn
and drain through its puny hole. I think I know

the shape of it, when the thole fits so precisely
in the gunwale, and with that old tell-tale
spiralling, blown backwards on the wind.