Brandon Courtney

-- after Marvin Bell

"A shamal had been developing throughout the night.
The winds had increased 30 to 40 knots and the seas were 8 to
10 feet. [...] We received a call from the USS Peterson that MV Smara
was capsizing in the heavy seas. The crew and security team
were preparing to abandon ship. [...] We were told a few minutes
later the ship had gone down, and all 22 people
were in the water."
--Dave Bouve

Of the captain, Nakhoda Yekom, I remember his teeth,
Van Gogh yellow like accidental orchids blown
between rows of cotton stocks & his uniform,
his arrow point collar, the fabric's Venetian
blond weave, color & texture of boxwood grain.

Of the Nasarvan's forearms, I remember the sallow
shapes of the letters -- his brother's name -- the Farsi
method of tattooing: patterns razored into skin, incisions
kneaded with black ash from the funeral pyre.

Of the Navban Dovom's Kalashnikov, I remember the slight
bank of the banana clip; the polished butt of the weapon
pressed hard against his clavicle & the scar he showed me,
pulling the collar off his shoulder: a pink night
crawler stretched across travertine.

Of the Navi Yekom, even less -- only the slow pull
from a smuggled Cuban bent between his lips,
ash as long & true as his index finger.

Of the Navi Dovom -- my same age & equivalent rank --
I remember the sewing needle he used to drain
the blisters on both heels & his parade boots, how he practiced
tying deck-knots with the laces: bowline, reef, & timber-hitch
before a full-length mirror.

Of the shamal, I remember the sudden swell of waves; yarn of sea
kraits washed aboard the weather decks before capsizing, a hundred
snakes motionless, unable to move on land or this steel island.

For provisional lifeboats, some men folded their bodies over the curve
of crude-oil canisters. I used the buoyancy of the Nakhoda Yekom's
bloated body.