Beginnings

When the taxi driver asks where to, I tell him the port. “The airport?” he says. “No, the port,” I say, “Ships.” “The Old Port?” he says. “No.” I’ve been to the Old Port and the science museum and seen Lascaux and the caves and the drawings of horses and bison. Part of me is still exploring the depth of those caves, with torches, with artists in the dark. They feel like a starting point. No, I mean the port. “I’m meeting a ship,” I say. I’ve waited a week in Montreal for it to arrive. Engine trouble out of Cleveland—but that’s all fixed now. Still under warranty. Last time I saw her she was a shell being dropped into the Menominee. “I’ll know her when I see her.” She’s going to sail south and cut through Panama. In two days she’ll smell saltwater for the first time.

The night before we sailed, I drank with the assistant cook. We settled ourselves with a lineup of local bands, a cute bartender, and three pitchers of beer between us. Later we staggered through the dark of Montreal B-sides and dewy medians, sailors stumbling back aboard ship before dawn.

The first time I sailed the North Atlantic was in the womb, aboard the SS France from South Hampton to New York. In 1971 she was the longest steamship in the world, and remained so until 2004. Five weeks after I was born in America, we sailed back to South Hampton on the Queen Elizabeth II.

—Thanks to the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, UAF (2014)

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