When Bone Ships Sailed the Stars

When Bone Ships Sailed the Stars

By David Fraser. 

When they approached the cliff
there was no turning back. It’s then
they carved a ship from the hollow bone
of a great sea serpent’s skull,
fashioned sails from its skin
before the creature rotted,
bleached by sun and water by the sea.
With each passing day, with tools
once forged in zero gravity, they worked,
etching runes and circuitry,
the rotting smell enough to make
the starving hurl their stomachs on the rocks.
At night in a cave, on an oak table
they unfolded all the stars in the milky way
and spread them like a map
lit by harnessed sun and candle light.

In them was a spirit not destroyed and they would gather
by the hot tide pools tempered by the sea,
and search late summer skies for answers,
make up stories for the questions that still remained.
Their solar barque was fitted with the tiny bones
of all the animals they loved, fingers from children
who’d died too young, and the long thin shanks
of the wasted ones who once had brought them home
in woven baskets and swaddling clothes.
They drew messages on the polished surface of the hull—
arc of the moon, a rising sun, studded holes punched
into a black night sky. They knew of ghost ships
that could appear out of a foggy night, or from around
a cluster of debris afloat and held in space.
They knew the danger waiting there. They knew
not to listen to the Sirens call that came from deep in time.

There were some who stayed, grounded, and wrote
of ancient floods and arks preserved on mountain tops,
but the carvers knew from beyond those histories,
that those stories were caught up too much with words.
And when they left—a great rising up of oars
and sail to catch the solar winds—with regret
they watched those who could not escape,
watched them fashion stone shapes of great ship hulls
in meadows as a message to draw them back,
watched them paint on rock walls with fingers dipped
in blood and berry juice in flame and shadows, and
watched them with mathematics lay out huge stones
as signs on the desert sand.  Regret they knew
for their great bone ship was destined
only for the stars.


DAVID FRASER is a poet, spoken-word performer, publisher and editor. He lives in Nanoose Bay, on Vancouver Island. He is the founder and editor of Ascent Aspirations Magazine. His poetry has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Rocksalt, An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry (Mother Tongue Press), Poems from Planet Earth (Leaf Press), Walk Myself Home (Caitlin Press) and recentlyTesseracts 18. He has published five collections of poetry; Going to the Well, 2004, Running Down the Wind, 2007, No Way Easy, 2010,Caught in My Throat, 2011 and, Paper Boats, 2012. In addition David has co-authored with Naomi Beth Wakan, On Poetry, an inspirational book on poetics and poetry and has recently completed a response poem collection, Maybe We Could Dance, with poet Pat Smekal. His forthcoming collection of poetry, After All the Scissor Work is Done will be published by Leaf Press in the spring of 2016.

Photo by Alosh Bennett.

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