Setting Out

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setting out

Light easterly, long wished for as a flock
of sailors settle in the rigging, white
as spreading sails. Tremulous anticipation and elation as the capstan
turns and Beagle shanties out of Plymouth, lurching
with sickening motion. His vomit mixes
with the smell of blood, eddying still
in scuppers after the cat has tamed Christmas
revellers: neglect of duty, drunken insolence, broken
leave; a litany of miscreance matched by lusty
singing, the wheel turning to Nelson’s
maxim, ‘England expects…’ whilst the sounding brass
of the ship’s farewell, shakes compass north but does not move
their resolution. South Beagle goes, commerce
drawn to Argentina, to fix ports, map coasts. Below
are stowed his hammer, microscope, barometer and books
whilst in his head, plants are dried and mounted, birds
shot and stuffed, crabs pickled, animal skins
packed. Paley’s watch is magnified twenty-two
times as chronometers measure the Watchmaker’s world, each
equatorial minute potent with a seventeen mile error.
Design’s clear sight will dim as Beagle journeys on, turn chimed
purpose to discordant and unconscious random sounds.