“On Dark Foundations Deep”: on building a boat deep in the semi-arid zone

The crops that far out
are barely viable—they keep low
and are hard at heart, the header
set deep and scraping stones, dirt;
he recalls stories of his grandmother
on their sailing out, the layered
countries below the surface,
variegated blues and greens
shifting and surging
shelves and deserts,
lush as the fields after
the brightest seasons; he felt the swell
beneath his feet, the tractor tracking
and gybing over the thin soil,
scant opportunistic islands of scrub
on dark foundations deep,
as if saying “sail between us,”
and beyond, water of varying depth
sounds the body’s fluid, as tidal
as the hunger that’ll take you to town
to find a partner, the vicissitude
of a childhood seaside visit—Albany,
Windy Harbour—that comes out of the blood
of the full moon when traps
make all beasts search the same language;
that forty years pass and the sea
is never seen again, only
the briefly flowing creeks,
rivers on the way to the district’s edge,
rare floodwaters washing
the deepest wells that draw the soul
which dries if left in the air too long;
and the constantly thirsty farm dams,
test places for the vision that accumulates
in the main shed next to the combine harvester.
His boat, wooden and made in the old way,
finished slowly, its sea the dust
swirling after the stubble
has been eaten to the ground
by sheep, its blood the blood of salmon gums,
and the wind in its never-raised sails
the breath of smoke-bush, panacea
of the vestigial charts, topsails
and sonar sparks, inherited stars
that don’t match mud-maps
at times of growth, shipped
against lean years, a sharp keel
and “well-balanced” rudder
still inside the tin shed
shuddering with an easterly,
orders for burial at sea
capsizing under the weight.

after Malcom Lowry