La voix des océans


The ore carrier is making a few knots out past the breakwater, moving like a slow cliff. Cranes and derricks, rust on rust from decades of mines to works — Gladstone, Whyalla, Shanghai, Brazil. The bridge is toilet bowl yellow chipped and stained, safety first in giant  capitals.

The American composer John Adams dreamt of a giant tanker working slowly down San Francisco bay, silver spray crashing over its bow. Then from below the Golden Gate, in an exalted moment the ship left the waters and, like his chords, rose vertically into the sky.

Not much majesty here: Monrovia flagged, a filipino crew contracted on minimum wages who won’t see their families for another three months, diesel and overalls and knife fights over bad cooking. The bow walls through the oily swell and the tug nudges her a point further east then lets go lines. Black smoke coughs into the pastel sunrise.

Then a long moment when the ship opens its horn, a vast basso blaart going up and down these fibro alleys, these lean-tos, these bleary hung-over houses, rattling ornaments and bottles on shelves and waking dogs dozing on mats.


flying in long lines

birds in the darkening sky —

a winter apart.


Image: kmans via pixabay; Here’s a link if you want to know more about seafarers’ working conditions, and here’s John Adams’ dream-inspired piece Harmonielehre (Harmony lesson) with Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (turn it up). Linked to Dverse open link night #217 where Grace is hosting.


10 thoughts on “La voix des océans

  1. A slow cliff: It is exactly, just like that, when you’re standing dockside, looking up. It is completely overwhelming. I know – my husband is a retired shipping man.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A beautiful haibun Peter, so much lovely detail in the prose: the slow moving cliff, the rust, the safety first sign, the ill-equipped underpaid crew, the horn rattling the ornaments. We see these ships from the shore and it is their droning engines that rattle our ornaments – heaven knows how they disorient the wildlife 🐳

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This haibun is so well done, Peter. I especially loves “…moves like a slow cliff…”. The perfect simile. And the “…hung-over houses…”. Wonderful! Will pass this on to a friend who worked on a container ship in his youth and wrote a book about it.


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