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The Sleep Coffins

are lined up like beds or boats:
flying barks, and dark dinghies floating down a wide, green brook;
a cozy caravel for one, rudder operated by brain
as, eyes shut, the supine passenger stretched on the warm, dry deck
surveys the dark magnificence of jungle rivers
and of the teak brig itself, a handsome boat
with a crew of twenty, nothing loath;
slick, varnished oak and heart pine,
a whole vocabulary for sailing
the dreamer does not know,
terrestrial navigation by celestial reckoning,
all unreliable on this rocking, aqueous road,
underneath overhanging leaves or afloat on an ice-slow ocean,
where the tallest forms are masts,
and the ship's physician sits on a slat-backed, satin-seated cherry wood chair,
and turns his hourglass,
waiting for the tincture of some exotic herb to work.
The moment disappears.
In the tiny galley a magician practices hypnotism in his morning coat,
elegant evening wear for a night of legerdemain,
in the warm rain on the bounding main.
"The syntactic structure of Beowulf is rigidly regular,"
the ship's grim grammarian intones indolently,
as the tri-corned captain lets a rattling map of Europe
slap back into its slot, no longer aroused.
Only the white pine handle remains,
a broomstick from the center of whose length
a copper loop dangles
like the outline of a lip or a land.

--Thomas David Lisk


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