Willem Van de Velde the Younger, Ships in a Gale (1660)
The storm dissolves the difference between wave,
rock, and plank, which calm asserts.
The ships seem doomed, masts tilting, naves
rattled, the brink life always is
set in bleakness cinema. An outcrop of granite
that smashed one vessel now gathers
dots of men in crests that just might
toss them to a safe height. An egg’s changes
for the moment’s fish, but bets are on and winners
will also lose. Time has it, that slippery
boulder. We dryly watch the pummeled swimmers,
tipping hulls, mast climbers whose misery
disciplines valor, and the sea whose beauty is rage,
though history’s losses tally on a separate page.
Matsumura Goshun, Crab (late 18th century)
Three frogs and a crab, with a handful of strokes,
and a poem on the side. The paper, too, talks
its abacus of bump and weave. Time drags
itself into the picture through nature and sands
we slander empty. No void in our world
for mind would dab it full, subtle cauldron.
We are the plodding and the scurrying; wet
or dry, aliens of the immediate. No life regret
can bend a body back to what it knew,
so the land crab lugs its armor, stews
in its heat. The frog, sleak and aberrant,
master of the world’s two selves, is tenant
and lord. They welcome what new confusions arise
for resignation sometimes gets the prize.