The Diving Apprentices

Sometimes you watch them going out to sea
On such a day as this, in the worst of weathers,
Their boat holding ten or a dozen of them,
In black rubber suits crouched around the engine housing,
Tanks of air, straps and hoses, and for their feet
Enormous flippers.

The bow, with such a load on board,
Hammers through the whitecaps, while they talk;
Junonian girls, Praxitelean boys, pelted on
By bursting clouds, by spray, eventually heave
The tanks upon their backs, the boat drifts at anchor,

And down they go to the sea floor, by the foggy headland.
At least, you can presume they kick the flippers
And plunge to where the water is more calm. The cool
Instructors must keep eyes and ears
Open. Accidents out there, they happen.

You might imagine scraps
Of cultural débris, a broken pot, a ring, a cogwheel
Come up, clutched in a palm, and interesting,
A wave pattern in it, the blade of a sword,
When a lucky diver breaks again the surface. Time,
Time and again frigate and schooner cracked
Blown against the rocks, holed below the water line.

Even an inscription
Might now be coming up from those green deeps.
Yet the divers do their silent thing. On the sea floor
Expect only the sea, a multitude of sand without an hourglass.
Round somebody’ s ankle idly it swarms. A diver
Hangs by a thread of breath in solitude there. Some go down
In all simplicity curious; to have tales to tell;
And who knows, what they learn
Just might, long after this, be usable.