When Fall has flung the dead leaves to the lawn,
And Night has pulped them in cold rain till dawn,
While every plant that pleased the world is dead,
Each casually murdered in its bed;
When cold winds rake the rubbish heaps and send
Wet notices no one you know has penned—
Soiled scraps, blurred ink, the kind of thing
That some sepulchral summoner might bring;
When blackbirds struggle with the grieving sky,
To croak their witness that the world’s awry,
“Our life is pathless, we can only stray.”
Small wonder people try to get away.
Some couples may take out a second trust
To satisfy their edgy wanderlust,
Then folk of many different types and styles
Develop fervent longing for the Virgin Isles
And use whatever means they can secure
To see St. Thomas on a package tour.
These pilgrims of the modern sort would trek
Downtown themselves to book a penthouse deck
Where they alone would toast the isle’s allure
Splashed in full color through the cruise brochure,
Gloating, as if they owned it privately,
Along with nearby portions of the sea.
Divorced, and short on funds, nevertheless
I thought a modest trip might ease distress.
Perhaps I might meet someone dressed in silk
Under the moonlight. Something of that ilk.
I passed by cruises billed as “European”
And cheap-cheap tours on ships flagged Eritrean
(Having had dreams in which I walked the plank
For cutthroats, who all sniggered as I sank).
The travel agent whom I found by phone
Cut short my long, apologetic drone
And launched into his own, well-practiced spiel:
“I’ve got the perfect package—what a deal!
“We’ve come up with bereavement fares this Spring.
For those whose other halves have taken wing.
“You qualify if you have lost your spouse!”
(Well, so I had, and with her half my house.)
I found that I’d agreed to sail with twenty-nine
Whose marital status was not far from mine.
We were a“Survivors’Club,” a mere device
To give us access to a discount price.
(I ask if “survivor” required Her to be dead:
The agent laughed. “At least to you!” he said).
But then he said, should someone snoop,
I’d blend in well among the mourning group—
We’d all share staterooms. I could don a mien
Consistent with my loss. If I came clean,
He said, I would not have to “disembark”
Mid-ocean to be hors d’oeuvres for some shark.
It seemed that there was not another way
To get a discount, so I said, “OK.”
Our ship, the Ocean Froth, oppressed the quay,
And dazzled like an iceberg on the sea,
A floating torte of countless frosted decks.
Scanning them from below wreaked hell with necks;
You needed binoculars to find the top
And maybe an astrolabe or turboprop.
Within her labyrinthine layers she’d hold
Up to five thousand passengers, all told,
So closely packed that one precocious sneeze
Could gain the status of widespread disease
In just a day, and with an extra night,
An international disaster site.
Our berths were up on Deck H-115,
The steward told me. I had never seen
A ship so vast that every fire drill
Required some wilderness survival skill,
Knowledge of maps and compasses at least
And how at night to tell the west from east.
Each deck was subdivided into planes
With quadrants, sections, subsections, and lanes,
And elevator banks and corridors
Both fore and aft, unfolding by the scores.
At length by hide-and-seek I found
The berth where I felt destined to be drowned.
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