What I Heard at the Marinerís Chapel, Arcachon, France


And on the bay the sun at night lasted ten-thousandths of a second, a storm on the Atlantic from the west

driving before it the great white wind on the breakers

bells and bouys and wives ran to the main-masts or the yard to collect laundry from the windís thieving.


Sing the flag-ropes to masts on the moored ships in the harbors at low tide, hollow thump of boats in the wind

water endlessly rushing in and out, our rooms on the beach howl and hiss, ears pop

my daughter Lea at ten years old has opened a door, the pressure of the house adjusts

She says:ďThe storm is gorgeous!Ē and goes back to sleep.


And on the bay white lightning from the Atlantic driven to sea sent the little boats in the harbor clacking and clattering

when Lea slept and I awoke imagining the boats ran on the land like frogs

with the beetled-eyed captains in awe carried to their little towns at last where they wanted to be buried beside their mothers.


And on the bay the burning eye of the Marinerís Cross near the jetty at the soft mouth

bearing to the Atlantic that churned so many bodies, where so many had passed and not come back

the marinerís chapel up the street empty of men, of lives

the pinprick light of towns beyond the Bassin díArcachon in 60 years and again in 600

will disappear forever from the sand banks, even the arm of the lights of Cape Ferret

the pharos, the all-seeing that sees the ends of the land and finds us the straight and narrow path

into the arm of the bay and home to the chapel finally blown under.


And if we listen: so many mariners came to pray, laying their charms, remembering that once

when the vacation homes and the resorts and road were a forest of pines on the sea

a monk sick and alone came in the year 1519 to live anew

but one day he saw the sun at night and two ships in the white sea dying††

He fell to the sand and prayed and the ships were saved and on the shores at his feet washed a wooden statue

of Mary and child, the features almost erased by the water and in another land, by another myth, unknowable.


Here he built the first temple, here it was soon destroyed by the sea.Here the temple was built again

here the sand swallowed it to the knee.††


We are not in our land, nor our sea, this is a vacation, we do not know what the mariners know

all we know is the raising and lowering of the tides, the way the sand gets in our pants

what blond little Arthur, my daughterís friend, explains of the secrets of the flow

that if all the boats moored on their anchors point left then the tide comes in

if they point right, the tide goes out, and this is all you need to know.
††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† -Christopher Ketcham