Sea gleams seen against a backdrop black;
no painter's hand could ever gild
the gold of sun so bright against the sky.
For only calm before the storm
could light so brilliant seem.
The lighthouse stood its silent watch,
unneeded and unheeded now,
but casting its sun-swallowed eye
toward the sea squall's wall.
The lighthousekeeper, slicker hung inside,
watched as he had for time uncounted,
more from habit than from need.
A trace of rain, fresh-scented on the salted breeze
recalled to mind the day she sailed,
racing to outrun the storm.
His tears had fallen as the rain's first drops
obscured her sad, soft smile,
seen distant, like the sun and storm
that edged the dark horizon now at sea.
He'd loved her like the sea loves sand and sky,
each caress the kiss of wind on waves,
lingering, reluctant to withdraw
as waves cast up upon the beach.
He'd held that one lone sail in his heart's eye
so long beyond horizon's edge.
He painted then, but colors called to mind her eyes,
her hair, her lips; and every canvas finished fair,
the one alone he cared to share it with was gone.
Best to leave this world that held no joy,
and sail his lonely lighthouse on the breakers
which one day might bear to him his only hope.
So days ran into months, then years,
measured not in seconds ticked upon some clock,
but in the surge and crash of breakers on the rocks,
till hope at last bowed down to Time's relentless hand.
But now, some trick of light, salt, spray and sea?
He saw a sail far out before the storm,
billowed taut before the chasing gale.
He watched, a sigh of memory rising
like the wind that briskly blew across his brow.
While lost in thought, his eye strayed there,
a habit born of sadness, sea and solitary years.
She seemed much closer now and running fast,
the storm's cold breath pressed hard against her back.
He knew that sail. It was her father's ship.
With leap of heart he came alert,
his every sense strained out across the sea.
But stop. What hope she was aboard?
There'd been no hope in their last forced goodbye.
But hope he had, till hope itself had died.
He dared not let his heart believe it now.
The storm's great wall loomed halfway up the sky,
its face surreal, lit by sun still warm upon his back,
the sails so bright they almost screamed against the dark,
racing, flung by reckless wind at the approaching shore.
But that was her, aport the bow, reveling in the wave-struck spray,
her eyes turned to the town and docks downcoast from here.
How could she know he'd made the lighthouse his domain?
And yet she turned, and met his gaze, and smiled,
though distance could have played this trick as well.
His long-beleaguered heart at last broke free,
jumping, laughing, crying in a joy it thought was lost.
Hope sprung, its ground reclaimed as from the sands of time,
the years withdrawing like the surf till only love was left.
Though still a half a league between them lay,
no distance so much less than Time could separate.
The sea, the sky, the ship, the shore were gone,
and hearts and souls as one were all they knew.
For now Time froze, and seconds clear like eons passed
inside the love that even it could not destroy.
The wave that held them now no ocean ever matched,
till this world cast one up that made her duck its spray,
and in the shattered spell, the storm broke loose.
The lighthouse light stabbed out across the sea,
a lifetime's warning in its glare, now freed;
as sun succumbed to cloud and rain, her captain saw
how far the wind and drift had pushed them up the coast.
He heeled to starboard, trimmed the sails,
but whirl of wind that led the storm had caught him up,
and worse, it raked the breakers up the rocks
toward the spar that swirled them out again to sea.
The lighthousekeeper gasped a breath and screamed,
"Not now, oh God, not now! Please not this ship."
The terror of this coast he knew too well.
This terror in his heart he hoped he'd never feel.
But there, by fury thrashed, the eddy grew
into the whirlpool every sailor knew.
The keeper watched, his eyes on hers.
She saw his fear and his sad tears.
They told her that he feared her ship was lost.
Her captain fought the wind and sea as best he could,
but larger, wide and deep, it had him at its edge.
The lighthousekeeper cried, he'd seen this all before.
His eyes held hers, tears streaming down like rain.
At best an hour, and that upon the captain's skill.
The storm held fast, the whirlpool grew, now open deep
where half a dozen ships below them lay.
With every whirl the boat came near, so near, so far,
to then again recede around the wheel.
Her captain, he was good. Sometimes he even gained,
but yet more often held, or lost what gain he'd made.
And every pass, their eyes still locked, the lovers yearned;
sometimes a smile, ironic that they were so close,
but even these sad smiles peeked out from inside tears.
Lightning flashed and flickering lit his face,
and in that blink of time, he knew what he must do.
He who watched the whirlpool all these years,
Ulysses at the mast as ships had struggled and then died.
Some came close, some had not, some failed to even try.
But not this ship. Too many had gone down.
This one would not drown.
Headlong to the door he dashed, arming as he ran:
slicker, rope and grapple, life vest, oars,
Then down the storm-slick rocks, across the cliff,
half running and half falling 'round the spar,
toward the hidden jetty in its lee.
Lashed to the dinghy dock, the lifeboat lay.
His fishknife flashed; the salt-stained ropes fell free,
he doubted he would need them any more.
A practiced flip, and in the boat slid silently,
its splash submerged behind the turmoil of the sea.
Barely hesitating, pulling on the oars,
a quick turn 'round the spar, and there it was.
He knew this boat as if it were himself.
They'd often whirled the pool in its infancy,
in calmer winds and milder seas than these,
the nicks on the boat and the scars on his side
lessons in carelessness or arrogance.
But now it gaped and roared, the gates of hell,
and briefly panic seized him, but it couldn't last.
The ship whirled past, her eyes met his, love and fear.
Too late this time, man and boat crouched on the waves,
backed against the spar, to wait their time.
They only had one chance. It must be right.
And in that pause, it seemed both man and boat
knew this would be their last whirl. They all led to this.
Across the whirlpool, eyes still locked on his,
his love awaited, eyes afraid for what he planned.
Her captain saw him there, and steered up high as he could go.
And then it was upon them. One deep breath, a mighty pull,
and man and boat dove down into the breach.
With all his might he strained against the oars,
gained speed as ship, dual-driven by the wind and wave,
this fly-speck on the wall of water overtook.
Staying high upon the vortex, hook and line in hand,
he peered back through the wind-whipped rain toward her ship.
The rain, though, could have ceased for all he noticed.
Strange to find such calm inside that fury.
As seconds passed like months, the ship caught up
began to pass, much deeper in the pool than he.
Gauging whirl for whirl, and matched with whirl of rope,
he cast with all he had, and cast it well.
The hook on railing held, and he held fast,
shipspeed dragging man and lifeboat in its wake.
So close they were, so much they shared, this boat and he,
but now at stake were life and love.
With one great shove, thus hoping lifeboat clear of pool,
holding lifeline for dear life, he leapt into the sea.
At last, the whirlpool had him in its grip,
dragging, pulling, tearing, trying to suck him down.
Still fast he held, hand over hand, lungs bursting,
till he had the planking of the ship against his side.
Yet even then, as if in one last try to drag him in,
a great wave broke against the ship,
almost washing him loose from his grasp.
He held, then ship hands had him, pulled him up.
Staggering across the lurching deck,
pitched against the whirlpool's slope,
he made his weaving way toward the helm,
glad to find the slope was gentle still.
There, with words and hands, he told his plan,
painting on the air against the whirlpool's shape:
the shoreward sweep, the daring dive for speed,
and then a fool's path set to dash upon the rocks
if the whirlpool freed them at that time.
It would not but by merest chance, yet if it did
the rocks would still a blessing be.
You cannot fight the whirlpool, only yield,
and in the yielding, gain strength to strive free.
The downpool dive, the run right at the rocks,
each giving speed, perhaps enough for freedom.
The lovers had yet half an orbit round the wheel to go,
and duty done, they finally gave themselves their due.
At last, they met with eyes, and arms, and lips.
Seeing, eyes could see naught else.
Holding, thrash and throe could no more shake.
Kissing they were joined as one, and that true union
nothing else that followed could destroy.
Holding tight, to love and to the railing at the bow,
they watched their course grow steeper to the swirl.
The whirlpool tasting victory drew them in,
faster still, the spray cast dashing up above their heads.
But just before the spiral held them tight, a shift of sail,
the rudder hard to shore, and whirl and speed of spin
propelled them like a shot toward the rocks.
The whirlpool scarce contained its rage,
clutching like a demon at the stern.
In war with wind and speed,
it clung like desperation to the ship,
now on the pivot, pushed ahead, pulled astern,
sweeping sideways in the whirl and closing on the spar.
But here at inmost curve of cliffs,
the current was its least,
and almost let them go against the rocks.
The captain, sensing freedom, heeled to port
and finally came tangential to the whirl,
glancing off the backwash from the wall,
whitewater boatsman more than the master of the seas.
The wash gave one last push against the stern,
and in that instant, barely clearing reef and point of spar,
the ship swept free, nose out toward the open sea.
Before the whirlpool grasped again, to starboard hard
around the point and leeward of the spar.
Mortal danger quickly gone, left silent disbelief
a moment hanging in the air, almost too true,
this unforeseen deliverance from the jaws of death.
And then it broke, so small at first
but spreading like a fire,
the cheers and laughter from the crew,
once dead men all, but now again alive.
Yet to the lovers, this was distant
like the sound of breakers on the shore.
They had survived, and in this moment
they were finally free to love.
That love and joy were all they knew.