Letter Written on a Ferry While Crossing Long Island Sound
I am surprised to see that the ocean is still going on. Now I am going back and I have ripped my hand from your hand as I said I would and I have made it this far as I said I would and I am on the top deck now holding my wallet, my cigarettes and my car keys at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday in August of 1960.
Dearest, although everything has happened, nothing has happened. The sea is very old. The sea is the face of Mary, without miracles or rage or unusual hope, grown rough and wrinkled with incurable age.
Still, I have eyes. These are my eyes: the orange letters that spell ORIENT on the life preserver that hangs by my knees; the cement lifeboat that wears its dirty canvas coat; the faded sign that sits on its shelf saying KEEP OFF. Oh, all right, I say, I’ll save myself.
Over my right shoulder I see four nuns who sit like a bridge club, their faces poked out from under their habits, as good as good babies who have sunk into their carriages. Without discrimination the wind pulls the skirts of their arms. Almost undressed, I see what remains: that holy wrist, that ankle, that chain.
Oh God, although I am very sad, could you please let these four nuns loosen from their leather boots and their wooden chairs to rise out over this greasy deck, out over this iron rail, nodding their pink heads to one side, flying four abreast in the old-fashioned side stroke; each mouth open and round, breathing together as fish do, singing without sound.
Dearest, see how my dark girls sally forth, over the passing lighthouse of Plum Gut, its shell as rusty as a camp dish, as fragile as a pagoda on a stone; out over the little lighthouse that warns me of drowning winds that rub over its blind bottom and its blue cover; winds that will take the toes and the ears of the rider or the lover.
There go my dark girls, their dresses puff in the leeward air. Oh, they are lighter than flying dogs or the breath of dolphins; each mouth opens gratefully, wider than a milk cup. My dark girls sing for this. They are going up. See them rise on black wings, drinking the sky, without smiles or hands or shoes. They call back to us from the gauzy edge of paradise, good news, good news.