Fathom and League

by Michael Collier

Two miles down the sea floor is a skull,
the wounded head of a monster - fractured,
faulted, ridged. It won't make me think
of the earth as Mother or understand Gaia,

but that my heart is inside my body
and neutral buoyancy is good. How else
can the world be studied? But if life begins
in the ocean, it thrives on hot and cold,

in the tumble and boil of the sea no longer silent.
In genesis there's no happiness, only awe
and improbability. The hideous is beautiful:
worms ten feet long, clams the size of Frisbees,

and shrimp that swarm like insects. And something else:
water burning inside water, smoking spires
and chimneys. And here and there, to calibrate
and measure, a weighted buoy, a probe or camera

I'm coming to retrieve. The sonar pings
as if it had an ear to my heart. the echo
coming back goes through and doesn't stop
until it dissipates, a question formed of sound

empty of the shapes it failed to find beyond
the submarine's perimeter of light. Now
at the site of the world's making and unmaking
the way to stay intact is to remain inside the sphere

as if it were a choice I'd made to define myself,
but it's no choice. The hatch is held in place
by the weight of 300 atmospheres: sky upon sky.
There's no courage in this safety, no danger

in this passing. The data siphoned, the vents named
Godzilla, Hulk, Inferno. My metaphor of monster?
The figure of fathom, measuring the depths, holding
the unseen dark close, hearing in it the sound

of its own shape--a name, then a creature, an issue,
made of what I hold, and nothing more,
the span, fingertip to fingertip, of an embrace.

for John Delaney

Contributed by John Delaney, who comments: Michael has been on several cruises with us. This poem was one result of his dive in ALVIN (in 1991) to the seafloor of the Juan de Fuca Ridge. Michael is the ultimate origin of the Bos'n's Poetry Night which we celebrate on most cruises...(The Bos'n, or Boatswain, is usually the main person on deck who oversees use all of the heavy equipment when anything is being placed other the side into the ocean or being recovered). Some Bos'ns are fond of Robert Service Poems like the Cremation of Sam McGee, or the Shooting of Dan McGrew...the original Bos'n in this case is Wayne Bailey of the R/V ATLANTIS, out of Woods Hole, MA.