Two Poems by Jacquelyn Bengfort






Sea Monster

A secret: all the oceans are one ocean
And the ocean looks the same everywhere.
Nevertheless, let us praise the white hour,
When the depths disappear and the sea
Becomes a rippling sheet under spun sugar skies.
The white hour, when sailors grow quiet
Thinking of infinity, or thinking of whatever
Is to eat on the mess decks tonight.

The ocean looks the same, worldwide,
And after white comes slate blue, then black
And star-pricked, and praise be the trail
Of bioluminescent cousins of our ancestors
Glowing silent behind the ship, sometimes
Leading stray helicopters home to roost.
Sailors read their charts, dead reckoning
Under red lights, faces carnelian and perfect.

It is one ocean, but you cannot know it, you
Should not trust it; it aims to swallow you; it will.
But still, all praise to the water in its vastness.
Remember a night that the lookout heard whistles
And for hours we looked for people in the waves.
And for hours we found nothing, turning slow circles,
Lowering boat after boat. We doubted the lookout.
We ended the search. She demanded to know:

Well, then, what did I hear?
                              I heard something.
                                                     What did I hear?

Originally published in A Common Bond II: An ASAP Anthology

Great Bitter

Fifteen ships sailing northward and slow,
Full of eggs and fruit and raw cowhide
And the plastic toys that outlive us all,
Forced to anchor in the Great Bitter Lake.
1967. The Six-Day War. The Suez Canal,
Stoppered by scuttled vessels at either end.

Call it the Yellow Fleet—the sand, you know.
Shipboard life is routine. It seemed a holiday at first:
Organizing movie nights and boat races,
Designing stamps that Egypt honored. But in time,
Crews were consolidated and men went home,
Their vessels shrugged off and left in the desert.

Think now about the sayings we have for ships.
For example, how they pass in the night.
How uncomfortable, then, these beasts must have been,
Bedfellows for those long years. Little wonder too that,
Unused to such a committed life, anchored
in place, they let themselves go.

I want to help you understand
How like a body is a ship, how ships decay.
Only two, Münsterland and Nordwind,
Arrived home on their own engines, and
That was 1975. Which leads me to this benediction:
Ashes to ashes, steel to rust.

Originally published in A Common Bond II: An ASAP Anthology


Jacquelyn Bengfort lives in Washington, DC. She has received fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, and is the author of the chapbooks Navy News Service and Suitable for All Methods of Communication.

Image by Eugenio Hansen, OFS – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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