“The Cartographer’s Son, Part II”

GLORIA LI

v. Father’s Love

The father rises before the morning sun

and waits on the deck for her to join him.

The tranquil hush over the water is almost tangible

as it whispers reassurances to the grim

man as an old friend comforts one who is

all too aware that children are frangible.

 

But as regret is about to consume the poor man

he sees his shadow in the gently rippling waves

and then a small child is standing there

head held high and with a smile he braves

the bathtub waters, then shallow sand-laden shores

and, at last, the ocean, where he gasps in salty air!

 

How refreshing to take a step back

and allow time and the past to remind

him of the irreplaceable joy he has found in the sea

and the man feels his knotted worries unwind

as steady as the sun rises from its watery bed

for he remembers the first time he truly felt free.

 

And he also remembers his son’s little face

with the bright eyes (so bright!) as they looked out

toward the water as the harbor disappeared from view

and he now knows without a sliver of doubt

that bringing his son, his quick and curious little boy,

with him on the journey was the right thing to do.

 

The sea, oh the sea, that magnificent creature

who bares its back for the rider, the friend,

and would loyally carry him, however roughly,

to the veritable four corners and the end

of the known world and further, much further

until he has reached the jeweled infinity.

 

And as the man gazes into the water

he begins to laugh quietly to himself

because he realizes that he could sail forever

and still be unable to render each shelf

and reef and island in this blue world;

mapping the land was simple, but the sea? Never.

 

  1. Child’s Fantasy

 

Meanwhile the child has arisen in the cabin

to a state of curious wakefulness

and he spies on the desk a closed scroll

which he unravels immediately to witness

once again his father’s scrupulous handiwork

and the sight touches the child to his soul.

 

How he wonders at his father’s loving hands,

which he has known as long and dear as life,

crafting such a splendid work of art

as the one that now lies before him rife

with the miniscule penned in names of

towns and cities that made the chart.

 

And how he sees! How he imagines the faded

blue water on the map coming to life and roiling

with storms to send chills down the neck of even

the saltiest sea dog; how he imagines the coiling

mass of iridescent scales on the sea monster’s back

as it shrieks— oh! The things to believe in.

 

The maidens’ heads along the edges of the map

are perpetually blowing wind but the inked swirls

begin to churn as if risen from a slumber;

a mermaid with sharp teeth and a string of pearls

leaps from the waves and grabs onto the banister

with inhuman screeches and eyes a burnt umber.

 

But now his imagination is flying fearfully free

and he cannot reign in the nightmarish visions

of tentacles ten men wide snatching him from

the safety of the ship, and the almighty collisions

of thunderclaps and lightning cracking through the

angry black sky with a booming background hum.

 

The child lies in a pool of eldritch astonishments

with his mind ever-so-delighted and frightened

by all of these impossible, plaguing thoughts

until at last the skies are brightened

by daylight and his father finds him

curled up like a map, fists as tight as knots.

 

vii.  Awaiting Land

 

“Careful, child, with that map,

for I have penned each little island

upon days of thought and observation,

gazing down from the crags of a highland

slope or circling around the lagoons

of some foreign man’s sea nation,”

 

The father chuckles, withdrawing the map

from his child’s coveting arms and

smoothing it out so that the officious

eyes which would later on land

on the delicate handiwork of the chart

could not be of imprecision suspicious.

 

“Father, you would not believe the many

things I had seen when I gazed upon

such pictures, the beautiful things

I had seen in the things you had drawn

and the terrifying ones too, like shipwrecks

and— how the veiled thunder rings!”

 

“An adventurous mind, no doubt,”

the father replies with tender

nostalgia and something else in his voice,

“but while the sea can render

one speechless from awe, or a

babbling admirer (your choice)—

 

there remains in the distance

the lands shrouded by mist

that this ship brings us towards

and how those adolescent, wind-kissed

landscapes and their people will

strike in your young heart feverish chords!

 

And for the love of all adventure,

which I share with you as well,

I bid you accept this present

from your father— a new ink well,

a sharp-tipped pen, a roll of sheets—

yours to determine their future contents.”

 

viii. The Present

 

And isn’t it absurd, how quickly

fate rushes in to claim the

unsuspecting father and his son?

With great wings it will soar

into the sky like thunderclouds

to obscure the midday sun.

 

Isn’t it absurd, how flesh could be

torn from flesh as if there ever

needed to be something strange

and supernatural to sever

that beautiful paternal bond,

two lives forever to change?

 

For it takes but a wave, a strong

wave of the sea or of the hand

to end this relationship

and, all of a sudden, the planned

endeavors of father and son

disappear underwater with the ship.

 

For it takes not a life, a fragile

human life which flickers

ever candle-like in the wind

of consciousness, but liquors

of drunken naiveté that

bring said life to bitter end.

 

And in newfound soberness

the child floats away alone

on a plank of wood that had been

the wall of some poor windblown

body’s cabin; and he shudders in

terror at the things he had seen.

 

The gifts from his father he grasps

tightly but as he comes to

understand, this boy of but seven,

he lets them sink slowly into

the ocean; for no map on earth

could help him find heaven.

 

 

 

 

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