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The Life Boat Dream

We whiled away the war, coffee cups welded to our fingers
and our determination to survive shining like headlamps

as we moved between decks or topside among the wind
and spray
                   and surely delusion loved us, though we didn't care.
The enemy was far away, the music of his semi-automatic
faith like a squall on a distant island or a party in a bank.

Darabaris was busy faking somnambula majora, bucking
for an early out.
                           Louis Columbo ran a little loan operation
from his desk in disbursing: easy terms—at first.
                           And my old friend Lavell, kept losing
his clothes in quick exits from women's apartments, torching
his life at both ends and the middle. Once, exhausted by the mad
pace of his life ashore, he went down
on a woman and fell asleep,
                                                  head on her fragrant belly.
Hey Lavell, we said, where'd you get the shiner? And

what happened to your pants?

                                                  Lieutenant J.G. Tufts, younger
than any of us, whom we called "Sonny" behind his back,
was tall and smacked his skull on the overhead
every time he stood up.
                                                  Johnson, quietly
and with enormous pride, did no work whatever.

A St. Elmo's fire of sea light, stack gas, and rage danced
in our hair and made us conditional, rented,

victims of an actuality deficit to be paid, somehow,
by smoking hash in the Legal Office or teasing the marines

or throwing "inessential" equipment overboard.
Sometimes I would dream of a huge green door

I had to open. Night after night, all my strength bent
to the task, I believed success might bring

a knowledge so exact I would escape the shipwreck
of that time and wander on home as though

unchanged. When at last I jimmied the door
ajar, there was the great diamond blue

sea and all of us bristling in a rubber boat like a clutch
of baby owls, confused by wind, water, and the moon,

charting the course assigned us, our stubby oars flailing
and threatening to break.

- Christopher Howell (from Cascadia Review)