Children at Sea – A Poem

By Eugene Sigaloff

I

We sail upon the ocean,
The sun is overhead,
The boat is gently rocked,
As if I were in bed.

The others all around me,
They seem to be afraid,
I wonder why,
I scan the sky,
The sun does seem to fade,
But I close my eyes
And try to think of home,
To dream of home,
Beneath the dark’ning dome.

II

The sun has gone
And night is here,
A time of chill,
A time of fear.

But I am warm
In Father’s arm,
He strokes my head,
He guards from harm.

The sea is calm,
The stars are bright,
The boat seems strong,
No cause for fright.

How strange it is
To be at sea
Instead of home
On Mother’s knee.

Oh why am I
Out here this night,
Pinned to this boat,
No port in sight?

Oh why so far
Away from all
I know and love,
And made so small?

What peril there
To make us flee
Our home,
To drive us out
Upon the naked sea,
This tiny band
Of people,
Shorn like sheep, yet free?

III

Night on the sea,
Starry sky that seems
Kind to me,
Much kinder than them,
Frightening men,
Killing and dying
Again and again.

Why so inflamed?
What is their aim?
Who is to blame?

Better to look,
Look at the
Stars, with their light
That brightens the night,
That seem to smile down
On us all, in their might.

IV

I look at the sea,
So endless, so wide,
I’m filled with its grayness,
Deep inside;
I remember the green of our tree!

Far from home, this
Colorless sea
Brings purest misery.

But think of the hum of the bee,
And think of the swallow’s wild spree,
See how he darts
Across the sky
In all his zest,
Just as if life were
Nothing but a perfect jest,
Then dives so joyfully
To his welcoming nest!

Back to this sea,
This gray and fearful quest.

V

Dream no more,
For dreaming always ends in tears;
Eyes must open wide,
Senses must provide
The truth: a tide of fears.

Fear of cold,
Fear of night,
Fear of never, ever again
Knowing, tasting delight.

Dream no more,
Hope no more,
For joy has no place
In time of war,
When the simple kindness
That ennobles life,
We all forswore.

Yet we’re here on this boat,
Inching along,
Still afloat.

In the sea,
Through the dark waters,
I look at the pitch-dark
Reasons that brought
Us children here tonight,
On this ark.

VI

Look beyond
The rising waves
And see the setting sun,
Whose gentle rays
Would seem to promise some
Far better days to come.

Days of song,
The sound of playing children,
Days so long,
The doubts of night forgotten,
Days of old,
When sunlight meant
A span of loveliness untold,
And moonlight seemed leant
To sooth us
Into ease,
Into stillness,
Into bed,
Into sleep,
Where our dreams unfold.

VII

When I am old
I’ll think back
On this time
Of anguish, and rack
My ripe mind,
Grown so cold,
And ponder, in time to come,
All the madness,
Ponder the rage that could
Turn men so numb.

I’ll muse on conviction
And men who knew that
God was with them in
All of their slaughter,
All of their torture,
Righteously killing,
Righteously willing
Doom with a snigger,
Doom with a grin,
Doom with scorn,
A wasteland within,
Of all pity shorn,
Frenzied to win,
To ruin sworn.

When I am old
I’ll think back
On this time,
And mourn.

VIII

Oh when I sight land
I will stand up and sing
And I’ll stretch out my hand
Towards a bird on the wing!

That bird may seem wilted,
That bird may seem wasted,
But still to its target does cling!

That poor bird will guide me
To shore and a lush lea;
With longing inside me
I hear glad bells ring!

Those bells seem a sign
Of kindness and peace,
When hands intertwine
And all discord does cease!

That bird gently calls me,
His wings seem to ask me
To cling to him blindly,
To trust that he’s true,
To follow him into the blue!

But look, see that gull
Falling out of the sky!
I hear, to my bones,
His disconsolate cry.

He drops to the sea,
His white wings touch the waves,
He wants to be free
But it’s rest that he craves.

See him sink,
One last glance,
His soul does shrink
In this last dance.

IX

Of all the things
We’ve left behind
There’s one that always
Comes to mind,
That haunts the day;
We were so blind
To its sway:

That waking bright
From a sheltered sleep
To the morning light
Could enchant and delight
Makes we weep.

I’ll weep no more
If the gods will allow us
To see a bright new shore.

X

This morning I woke up
To find a smile upon
My brother’s face;
I asked him why he looked
So pleased, as though we’d found
Some happy place,

A place where mornings bring
The smell of bread upon the air,
A place where children sing
Their way across the village square,

And laugh and cry and fight and play
And learn and love throughout the day;
My brother said he’d had a dream
In which the guns of hatred lay
To rust beside a glist’ning stream.

XI

As the days merge into one
The grinding sadness takes its toll;
We are dross on the sea, offered up to the sun,
Floating in limbo, seeking in vain some lost goal,
Wond’ring what we have begun,
Bleakly, grimly, madly, mumbling a desolate barcarolle.

XII

Today I woke to see a far-off shore;
The sight of land brought hope, my heart did soar!

Oh soon there will be something else to see
But these cast down faces and the endless sea!

Our boat is heading towards a comforting coast;
The milk of human kindness shall be our host!

We’re sure to find kind people there
Who will feel our pain, who will offer care!

Oh our flight was not in vain, I feel it in the air!

XIII

At last it’s so,
We’ve come to land;
We cannot know,
As father takes my hand
To disembark,
If we’ve found peace;
Will all our heartache cease?
Or will the dark
Engulf our dreams?
The world can be so cold, it seems,
So filled with pain;
Will our ordeal
Have been in vain?
We bore this ark:
Must we then still endure the curse of Cain?
The double-sided human strain:
As hard as steel,
Without a spark
Of gentleness;
As soft as breath,
With kindness unto death.

– Eugene Sigaloff lives in The Netherlands, in a small village. He is a retired teacher of music theory, having worked at the Conservatory in Amsterdam. He is married, with two children and four grandchildren. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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