“The Gokstadt Ship” Paisley Rekdal

I can imagine you on it. The museum placard
declares it able fit for dozens
with a keel spine longer than these other boats
combined. Under sail, its oar holes could be snapped
closed, sealed by sliding flags of oak.
I can imagine us both on it. It’s black.
Night-hooded from time or swabbings of tar,
thick fillips of dark wax? We are both on it,
we are both watching ourselves make love on it.

The clench nails look thick as men’s thumbs, one
each inch of plank. No embellishments
beside the enormous, scything, upward stempost,
parrel-clipped mast-staff ensconced in rings;
whale-bellied, purse- sleek, only the slightest fin-
like boss to suggest the boat, beached in concrete, could sail.
You push me up against its rails. I push you on your back. I lied:
there are embellishments: one rudder steeled
with recessed heads, a dragon-headed hasp.
This was not a pleasure craft. The entire thing
was built for death: here’s the burial chamber raised
like a bed on deck. My skirt falls. You part my legs
with your mouth. I can feel your teeth
and breath.
For 24 hours, the crew both rowed
and bailed, operated sail and leechlines and steered.
There is no evidence food was cooked on board. You tug
my hair in one white fist. You move too fast. I think I smell her
woven into your neck, the sweat of your back.

The yarn-spun sail, unfurled, let the craft reach twelve knots.
It would have been enormous. Of all the things
I’ve listed, I haven’t said how large
this ship is, how it scrapes out the entire
pale gray gallery, how its darkness, its heft
and incongruity, force observers
to press themselves to the walls. I want to smell her
just as, later, I want her to smell me.

The museum guard says he hears the ship groan
whenever a hard wind seethes outside this place.
He says this in English for me, doesn’t repeat it
in Norwegian for the children.
Perhaps he wants to believe this is an English
dream, an English fantasy. You say
you’ll take me to your home. I say I’ll take you to mine.

On the ship they found posts filigreed
with yawing gapes, a hundred
wood screams. This was a special find.
Not like the others with their thwarts
so shattered the spines are little more
than shrouds of millipedes, propped
on a multitude of iron spikes. I know
the way you fuck me now is how, later,
you’ll hate me.
There are no embellishments.
The museum guard watches as I pass the ship.
I think he sees how close I lean
to see the wood breathe, to stroke its fading scent of rot.
I think he wants to know why this book
is so red in my hands. I think he wants to see
just what I’m waiting for in here
and watch, when I turn in the yellowed gallery light,
how carefully I pinch closed my thin shirt
all the way to the top.

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