Meryl Stratford
October Voyage

Winter arrives early with its frozen fingers,
its speech balloons of whispered whiteness.
Massive gates like Mordor creak open, dripping,
then clang shut. Locks lift and lower us
down giant steps to the sea. We pass through the Narrows,
rush-hour above us, all we possess stowed below.
At Sandy Hook we climb the Highlands,
wait three days before we brave the ocean,
sail south along the Jersey shore, lights
passing to starboard in the windy night,
Orion pointing the way. Years later
I will take a bus to Atlantic City,
visit the lighthouse that flashes
now in the billowing dark.
Phosphorescence swirls in our wake.
A dropped oar, sighted once atop a wave,
is lost forever. The air smells of seaweed and salt.
Beacons, fading in the morning light, leave us
adrift in the mouth of a river, its banks
too low to be seen. Winter pursues us through
coastal bays and waterways into the Great Dismal Swamp,
a grey cathedral of cypress, hung with Spanish moss.
If we could walk on water, we would travel as fast on foot,
but we arrive at last in the land of palm trees and pelicans,
shedding our woollen mittens.