“Cruise”

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Sept. 11 2012 6:00 AM

“Cruise”

120905_POEM_manonboat

Photograph by Jeff Clow/iStockphoto.

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear James Longenbach read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

First there was the luggage, then the ship.
A centaur followed us, his legs a man’s, his face a girl’s—
Some of us unfolded deck chairs but our books
Survived no better than the flag.
By the end of the week they were shredded.

The god sits on a throne of gold and ivory.
On his scepter sits an eagle.
His robes and sandals, too, are fashioned of gold
.

I could go on like this; there was
Nothing on the ship but time.
Time to read, to think, but mostly
Time to read nothing, to think about nothing.

Zeus is long since melted down
Though you can see the molds
From which his robes were cast.

In the middle of the sea, no land in sight, you might be anyone.
Except you’re never in the middle, you’re at the edge.

Why won’t you come with me,
Why must I go alone,
Cried the first man ever to die, no one
To accompany him, no comrade, no lover or child.

I could have stayed in our stateroom forever,
Except that I was hungry, I had to eat.
And when the ship docked finally in Marseilles

I packed up my toiletries,
I thanked the porter, called a cab.

For Slate's poetry submission guidelines, click here. Click here to visit Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project site.

James Longenbach's most recent collection of poems is The Iron Key. Graywolf will publish a new prose book, The Virtues of Poetry, next year.

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