Excerpt from my notebooks
We ended up singing in the fo’c’s’le of the old
schooner most of that night.
We had Mac’s sweet, soaring Tenor, John and Nellie
and their dates who had no fear of harmony at all, the boy, who knew all the
choruses, and a lot of verses he shouldn’t have, and one lonesome
mandolin-player off a yacht up the wharf.
We’d heard him in a lull and chased him down with the shipyard
skiff. He said that all our howling made
him want to play.
We sang the moon up over the shipyard and across
the spring-stay of the schooner, down between the ketch’s masts and gone with
the rolling hump of tide down the bay.
It might not have been Art to some, but it was
what we had and all we needed.
I lay in my berth in the warm fo’c’s’le, thinking about
my friends in the islands. With the
isolation and the scarcity of paying work, it’s not hard to get depressed and
bitter. But wouldn’t that be true of any
rural area in a harsh land where you can get a glimpse of the way more
fortunate people live?
But that doesn’t turn people into beer-guzzling
animals, like the preacher said. Casting
around among the folks I knew, I couldn’t think of many that would fit that
world is full of islands, oh my soul.
each a lonely island in a raving dread of sea,
our loneliness like a dark and windy hole
glory of creation cannot fill.
of us will fill it as we can,
friends or music, dreams or work or beer
God. There’s probably no single, perfect
I fell asleep, feeling grateful for the music, and
for the boy on the settee across from me where the last chorus flung him, and for the schooner in the going tide, and
the water round us all, and the water all around the world, always moving.
thing I heard the next morning was the coffee pot, rolling above the mumble of
the schooner’s big wood stove. Then I
smelled the bacon, and I knew Mac was aboard, so I rolled out through the
me coffee, nodded toward the sleeping boy, and we went up on deck.
our mugs down on the forward house and stood on the frosty deck-planks warming
our hands at the stove-pipe.
harbor was quiet around us.
“Remember when I brought that sardine-carrier in here with the busted stem?”
“Yeah. You brought your little
buddy aboard. And you brought him along
when we made the first trip of fish after that… out of Sabbathday, wasn’t it?”
that was a good time, Mac. He was about
what he always called the carrier after that?”
hah: he called her ‘the house of singing.’”
huh. You know, he and I had a big talk
about you on my boat over supper last night.”
say anything, and he went on:
me that you and that preacher went thirteen rounds, and you got pretty stove
“Look, Mac, you and I know I’m a fool, but that bastard painted it all over
me. And the boy saw all of it.”
hell, we’re all fools in God’s garden.
But he told me that he was worried about your immortal soul – did you
I said. He turned and faced me.
was afraid you’d lose it – your immortal soul –- if you ever stopped singing. Now, how about that?”
watched me a moment, then he smiled and said “Let’s go down. I’m hungry.”
went down into the house of singing.