This week would have been my grandfather’s 93rd birthday. If you’ve followed along with my blog for a while, you will know a little bit about him and that he passed away a few months ago. He was the captain of an LSM 335 during WWII, a writer, an orator, a poet and a storyteller. We would go to dinner regularly, usually once every couple of weeks if he was feeling well. Our time together was spent talking about the past, about his life and life in general (with lots of advice and get-rich-quick schemes thrown in), writing and our shared love of poetry.
Often, my grandfather would tell me stories. Sometimes they would be stories about his youth. At other times, they would be stories about his time in the Navy. One of my favorite Navy stories he told me was how he would keep himself awake while on watch on the ship. He would shout poetry into the wind. My grandfather used to recite poetry all the time when he was alive and I was always amazed at the capacity of his memory and his ability to recall, even when he was an elderly man. He would frequently recite poems he had memorized as a little boy. I tried so hard to remember the poems he told me about, but they often slipped through my fingers.
The image of a sailor shouting poetry into the wind while on watch is one that has stayed with me since the day he first told the tale. I always found it to be a striking image and I have wanted to put it in a story somewhere. I imagine my grandpa standing in the rain as a young man, his mouth open as he battled the gales and his exhaustion, shouting every poem he could muster from his memory, his words acting like missiles against the storms and the invisible enemy of sleep. I anticipate that a figure shouting poetry into the storm or characters hearing words on the wind are images that will frequently appear in my writing as tributes to and in memory of my grandfather whom I love dearly. So far, this image has only appeared in its own story, a 300 word piece of nano fiction I wrote this summer called The Sailor. If you aren’t familiar with nano fiction, it is a story that has a beginning, middle and an end in 300 words or less. And I learned while writing this story, that is no easy feat!
And so, in memory of my grandfather and his birthday, I wanted to share this story with you this week. I hope you enjoy it. It was my first attempt at writing nano fiction.
(NOTE: The ship featured in this story is not intended to be an LSM. I changed the setting a bit because I liked the idea of my sailor climbing the sails.)
In the idle evening, when minutes flicker like candle flames and my comrades rest their tired frames, a watchful eye I keep over wind and wave and sail. Beneath the creaking vessel planks, the sea is black and whirling. Above me, each winking star, the clouds are obscuring.
I am trained to battle pirates, to climb the highest sail. But lo, behold my most dangerous foe, sweet-scented Hypnos, bearing poppies in his trail.
Mine eyes grow heavy and my mind curls round tepid thoughts of my pillowed head. These arms, they sag and these legs, they slump. My chin dips to my chest. To give in. Oh but to recede from this dreadful fray; the only man from stem to stern, the only man awake.
Though nearly snuffed, I stand at the helm and raise my slumping head. For ship, for comrades, I face the torrent of Hypnos’ giant wings. “Oh for the breath of the briny deep*!” I shout into the vicious storm, battling the slippery decks and raging winds, the heady drugs of sleep.
Ten-thousand daffodils** I hurl into that blaze of chaos with my salted lips. From the corners of my memory and the depths of my soul, I crow, I rave, I rage for I am a flame that will not go out. The sky bristles at my insolence. The sea, a jilted fiend, jerks our little sailing boat through her feisty mane.
The crust of sleep slowly dwindles, relinquishing its cloying hold. My eyes are clear, my head unfurls and suddenly, I’m wide-awake. Bespelled, entranced, rapturously, I stand my ground against the gales. I dare the wind of that mischievous sleep to try and strike me down.
* Quotation from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “A Sailor’s Song.”
** Image from William Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” (This poem has a special place for me and I wanted to include the image in the story because of it. My grandfather had a really fun story he always used to tell about studying this poem when he was in college. He said the professor was really entranced by the image of 10,000 daffodils and was waxing philosophically about it when an accounting student spoke up in class and said that it wasn’t so impressive because it was only 100 rows by 100 rows.)