WHITE SHADOW, YANK HITCHER
Hoisting two sacks
on my left shoulder and
the same shoreside road five times in my search
for Corporal, checking out leads
from a dozen-odd passersby.
They've all seen him
just minutes ago, but where?... He never
comes or goes by the clock.
His two-day's-growth of silvery beard flares
the Black Man's 5 O'clock shadow. White shadow.
A little mist
of whitish cloud around the jaws.
Sideburns of tinsel...
Corporal hangs out.
his sole vocation. Everyone
has seen him today, early or late; he's always
half-absent, half-present, a ghost
of himself. Just so. Now he stands
and leans, peering down
at me, askance, from his second story
porch rail÷an American
weighed down by two stuffed backpacks, begging
to hitch a ride to his home isle, Maireau, where
I'm to hole up
in his brother Dennis's HIDEAWAY
guest house. Sure ting,
says he. It's a
ride in the Boston Whaler.
We leave in a half hour, you the lone passenger.
She's the bright yellow speedboat
at the Pier's far edge... I toss
my bags ahead, jump
aboard and squat on the middle plank seat,
while flying over my scalp
from two angles come thin legs, wiry human
missiles, three in number. The boy, eleven, falls to
in place beside me.
The lass, fourteen, goes wriggling
into concave hollow
of the bow. A third
of uncertain gender, perhaps
midway between the two pals in age, sprawls face-
down on top of the bow... Two flicks
of the throttle. and we're bucking
from dockside, fullspeed
in seconds. I soon learn, by a repartee
exchange of basic life stats,
not one child can swim a stroke. You guessed it,
Corporal too÷the Skipper÷can't swim a damn lick.
And no life vests,
or hoops, on board! Two of the sprites
are Corporal's kids,
the eldest a school and
and when I bellow
my alarm at the crazy risks÷three child lives
on the line÷Corp swerves the bow
in zigzags over the choppy wave
bucks (as if to mock
my fears), and boldly anoints me lifeguard÷
one swimmer per boatload
should suffice... As we leave the harborage
and strike out for open water, the middle child
(a lass, I now
see: her beginning breast nuggets sil-
houetted in outline
on spray-drenched white
bursts forth with arias
and folksy tunes, her words sung in crisp dialect÷
a fetching and seductive accent,
the others drawn into her medley:
the best songs subtle
and pitched for a trio ensemble, three-part
voices spread out, happily,
over as many octaves. Old nature limericks,
folk songs, garden and bestiary myths are mingled
with Bible Class
tunes, snatches of scripture· All voices
are cut off, squelched
by abrupt motor stallout:
shooting sparks & coughing to a halt. We're whirled
about by a little maelstrom,
halfway between two nearest
land strips. What now?,
I say. We're stranded· Corporal's huffing
over his string-yank starter
(which recalls my futile tries to get my stalled
lawnmower going last month in faroff Illinois)÷
I mildly panic.
If we're out of gas or faced with engine
blockage, what a fix!
Four non-swimmers plus one
stay-afloat paddler, me.
Late afternoon. No other craft÷whether sailboat,
oar-propelled or motorized vessel÷
in view. The closer land dots
some four miles distant,
in either direction. But none aboard half-
way share my angst· Motor's
flooded. Needs to set & drain out for five minutes
or so. Corporal directs us to switch our seats,
our weights. Then he cranks the throttle,
it sparks, picks up
again faster than before,
now on even keel.
We lurch between whitecaps, and sweep to Maireau's
south beach in three minutes flat.
You out first, says Corporal. I'm
to broadjump from the bow
over the receding surf to beach, and I do,
plashless, at the right moment·
Two crew kids and I boost the boat stern upshore,
heave by heave, while the small lad fits a rolling log
beneath the keel,
gliding into our palm-tree anchorage.
© by Laurence