A Dream of the Ancient Mariner

The Ancient Mariner keeps on at me
like an albatross around my neck
that I can’t push off. I am becalmed
in his slimy sea, the Wedding Guest
forever unable to go to the wedding,
glimpsing the bride through the doorway,
dancing so blithely with her bridesmaids.
She is exiting stage left from my memory
until all I can see is the ghost ship
of her old illusions and dreams
sailing slowly away on a phantom breeze,
sliding off the edge of the world
to be ice-locked in a glacial sea.

“Never mind,” says the Ancient Mariner,
“you’ve always got me, with my endless
tale of woe in your ear, of the killing
of the albatross that wasn’t my fault
and the loss of the wind in our sails
that I couldn’t help, and the cruel death
from thirst of the crew, and the look
in her eye that caused my worst sorrow;
let me take you away from the wedding –
don’t look back at the bride, she doesn’t
thrill like my story of sadness
and guilt, of icebergs and pride.”

The bride I saw thought she’d sailed
away on a wondrous ship, with
sails of red silk, and a goddess
at the prow. She waved goodbye
to her friends on the pier, her ears
ringing with their good wishes and joy.
She doesn’t need the Ancient Mariner
reminding her of oceans of ice
at the end of the world, of years
locked alone in the doldrums,
of monsters secretly creeping
up from the deep, slithering over
the salt-cracked decks, of howling
winds tearing the red silk sails
into shrouds, of thirst cleaving
her tongue to the roof of her mouth.

I am losing even the thought of the bride,
as I close my eyes in frustration
at the tale droning on and on in my ear.
I am trapped in the scum of his land-locked sea,
while her rotting ship breaks up
as it limps mutely home to the harbour.

But there he is on the quayside,
buttonholing one of the Mourners,
saying: “It was I, who shot the bird,
who scuttled the ship, who drove
the Wedding Guest to madness
and oblivion, I am here to tell
you the whole grisly story”; and
the Mourner in his sadness is
distracted from noticing
the ship sliding under the water,
the scraps of red silk spotting
the surface of the shimmering sea.