Alive on the Water

Early it is foggy along the bay, and in the coves

And sometimes, in mysterious ways, out on the open water. 

The soft refracted light blinds us to anything beyond the self, 

The blanket of suspended moisture absorbs all sound, 

So that even my ears are fogged over with the quiet.  

You sit where you are, or you slip along in hopeful ignorance–– 

A vessel wrapped in a cotton womb––

In equal measure unseen, unseeing; 

Adrift, with neither sense nor sensibility; 

Startled equally 

By the slap of a diving seal, or the peal of a driving ship, 

Uncertain which to marvel, which to fear.

Warmth, like reason, 

Melts the impeding moisture from the air, 

Redirects the light to reveal

The boundaries and the options of my passage, 

Focusing the scope and limits of freedom’s range. 

A wind luffs my sails, tousles my hair, stirs my spirit.  

With Donne I am amazed: ‘Who ever made fair ship to sit in harbour?’’ 

Life is to be lived: the sins are found in doing nothing, or 

When doing, fearing all is reef and rocky shoals and swirling torrents. 

I plot against the laws of time and current, tide and wind; 

Accept the right of sea and sky to change their mind; 

The course, the plan and destination, 

The trimming and the choices - they are mine.

A playful wind calls me from its compass point, 

Suggests a line of travel across its path, 

Hints that I might reach my object 

With perhaps some minor tacking along the way,

And promises some unexpected byways as I go.

 Industry has placed at my hand as finely balanced a device as ever was. 

Then meet the day with quiet equanimity.

 Trimming sails and guiding rudder, eye fixed to the horizon,

 I harness the power of sea and air to my rapturous purpose: 

Man, machine and nature find perfect equilibrium. 


The word belies its meaning, deceives the mind. 

A word perchance invented by the fickle wind 

As cover for its perfidy. 

The wind, she teased me, enticed me, 

Gained my confidence, drew me out to reveal my path and ways. 

Then, vanishing into itself, 

Betrayed my trust and tries my soul with the frustration of indolence. 

All is still, the wind propelling me only to idleness. 

The hardest truth in life, this becalm

Lying still, I am solitary witness 

To a perfect line of dolphins 

Sweeping past about their business. 

Be calm.

And then it is the other thing 

To make you laugh and scream, and rage and weep. 

The wind rushes at you across the sea,

Hurls a concatenation of watery ridges into your bow, 

Whips the waves to spray, 

Flaps your sails, slaps your face, saps your spirit, flays your soul 

‘til you cannot tell between 

Sea and air, land and sky, spray and tears, hope and fears. 

You struggle to know the horizon and

Keep your course, your bearings, your mind; 

You sweat to fix your sails,

Praying the reef you set is the only one you find;

And strain to hear the bell buoys 

Mark where ocean ends and land beckons, 

To see the line of lights where reef ends 

And passage is allowed, 

To know the awful moment when grief ends and luxurious tears afforded.

Arbutus, searching for salt air and glowing in the evening light, frame the bay at 

Pirates Cove, Tenedos and Prideaux. 

Here, the ocean shows its life in gentler ways––

Tides silently breath in and out: 

falling, they reveal a constellation of multi-coloured stars, a galaxy of suns; 

rising, usher in a comet trail of jelly and, in the dark, an aurora of fluorescing plankton. 

Shy seals share the vista ‘til you notice them, and disappear. 

A heron makes a runway of the harbour, 

A loon calls from somewhere near the land, 

An eagles’ dance claims the entire sky.

The shoreline rotates as you ride your mooring, 

Child laughter washes across the bay, 

A swimmer pretends to enjoy the cold, 

A solitary dory putts slowly round a line of traps 

Raising someone’s dinner from the deep.


All life comes from the water, all life goes back to the sea

Is swallowed whole, or invisible, or swept away in some epochal shift. 

Continuously, the sea returns some resurrected life, purging and replenishing the air, 

Yielding its essence to refill the heavens, then fall again, 

like nature’s mercy, upon the place beneath.

At Montague - and a million other harbours, I suppose 

The sun strains for the west, leaving a palette of fiery colors 

and pastel hues stretching to eternity across a sea blue sky. 

The cooling water draws in a soft light breeze, 

makes a cradle of your vessel, and takes you to your rest.

 © Philip Knight 2018