Pitching And Reeling


Here we go! We’re re-e-eling!
The glass-framed instructions
rip off their nails.
A record player bashes you in the head
with Doris Day.
Borscht, lazing in the galley,
takes off straight up, splashing madly.
A bay leaf from the borscht,
stuck to the ceiling, steams.
Reel on, buddy!
Sure, you’d like to catch hold of a bush or some grass
with your hands!
The cabin boy staggers.
The helmsman staggers.
The boatswain staggers.
I’m staggering-
The waves like wolfhounds-
You’re just the same, Twentieth Century,
right-left left-right – up-down down-up-
All instructions shatter-
all the portraits smash to hell!
Faces are death-white, drawn, wasted, rat-like screech-
And all over the place it’s dense with kasha,
with downwind screams,
nothing but pitching and rolling, staggering, curving
with the taste of sick stomach in your mouth.
Reeling… A barrel jumps down the deck
throwing itself at people.
Hey, old buddies, we’re in for it now
but keep it cool anyway.
Crawl out of your cabins, otherwise
it’s kaput for us all. Reeling…
But the eyes of the harpooner
a ring-tailed roarer are strained,
and his forelock’s standing straight up.
He makes a soundless sign to the sailors
and steals sideways
with a rope to the flipped-out barrel
and pitches himself like a cat
splitting open the crowd.
For he knows,
you bastard pitch and roll,
things can get rough.
He’s learned by heart,
right through his skin, his red head.
He’s had it beat down through his skull:
Either you jump on the barrel
or it’ll jump all over you!
We’re reeling! But the barrel’s still, it’s no longer running wild…
We’re reeling! Clear weather won’t run off from us…
Reeling! We may be seasick, darkness in front of our eyes-
But we’ll out-reel you bad trip anyway…

Translated by James Dickey with Anthony Kahn

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