The moon a low dish and a ship hauls them through the night. Karl Axel and Axel Herman his son and Georg his brother among the quiet fled. They stare out at the gapless sea to allow the world its unfolding. Some few placed by their faith in the hands of God and set to unfurl the mysteries of his guidance through devoted reading and a hoisting here and there of choice verse. Though most of the fled have gone headlong into kegs of whiskey such that it seems the shouting and the donnybrooks and the rolling anthems are somehow captured in the keg itself and come released without fail with the prying of the bung. Karl Axel among the floored for his decision has set him out into a vast sea which if he pitched himself over the rail would not pause or change at all at the swallowing but instead continue its great unquilted heaving. Mist from the heavy dips raised upward in cloud shapes. The hull weight massive and mist a fleet air steady in its beat and gone as quick.
In steerage his son appears slept but in truth the rhythm of the ship though not unlike the sway of his mother walking with him clung to her sides builds an unsettle in him from the cold bigness of the rock and sway. The closed eyes unbetray his inner mood. To see the sleeping child one is calmed in the vision but to know his young regards would paint darker rooms. Surrounded in close by other goers and leavers and those freighted down by who remains on land. The infant son a tight ball, knees drawn in and corded by his new arms. The good smell of home who lives inside the wool blanket. Across the thin aisle a woman watches him, her look that of someone shot through with hollow.
A line on the death of Gustava Persson
Twenty nine days after the birth of Gustava Karolina the mother Gustava bended over for the air no longer held her up but instead she came to find that she was made of air and that inside her head some bees and the sound of all her bees inside the air that made her up was the sound of a body who gets lifted away as it sleeps and so in bed tumbled down with risen heat come to cook her from the insides out and work the bees into an all on susurrus Gustava wife of Axel son of Per now built of only air and the sound of bees went up and died.
Through Sweden on canals dug by men, earth moved and water took its place in a clean row and locks to lift or settle ships into the flatness. Another ship to England where Karl Axel and Axel Herman and Georg for a week remain in London at the Scandinavian Sailors Temperance Home, sailing in to London through the tattered fishing boats rigged with oilcloth sails like no few dirty sacks floated there and hope was missing from these boats. Loaded up again by train to Gravesend where they board the Ruapehucharted south to bend under the Cape of Good Hope and east to Australia.
Six days out and the island of Tenerife which to the eye is a cloud at first but nearing it grows stones and high peaks and here they take on coal from barges come up alongside the Ruapehu. Men of filth from Spain and Portugal and Italy come on board to remove their top clothing and carry sacks of coal on their deep colored backs and smoke tobacco, one square in the mouth and another crammed on the ear lit with the final drag of the square before. The coal men stop for dinner and their spread is the color of fruits carved by thin pocket knives and bread is lopped off as such and they drink wine from bottles the cork tied to a string. They end their dinner with tobacco and haul again on their backs the coal that paints their skin.
Karl Axel and young Axel Herman and Georg ferry on to the island of Tenerife where clean white houses climb the hills around Santa Cruz and a mountain covered in vines is up through the clouds. They buy two buckets of fruit and wine. They rent a guide who vends a trail to the cave of the hermit Saint Alonzo and they all four follow a rude cut in the hillside up out of town through a saddle and into where the sun shines brightly in a steep valley. Inside the cave they walk their hands along the walls polished smooth by other pilgrims who came to witness the dark place where Alonzo spent his life in silence. They rest inside the cave. Their breathing is the only sound they hear. But soon the ghosts inside the cave grow tired of the heavy breathing and chase out the wandered Swedes into the daylight.
Walking back, the sounds of any day intruding now as bells and horns might. But it’s only birds and their own hard footsounds. Then this too recedes. On deck the Ruapehu again all bustled and commote. Heading south into the rising hotness of a day unknown in Sweden.
His muscles are sore from the scrabbling they did and Karl Axel lays hands upon his son’s back and shoulders so to work out from in them what his own shoulders carry. He kneads the young tendons and the muscle. Lying behind young Herman on their bunk Karl Axel pours in to the boy what healing from his hands he can muster and in doing so there is builded a belief in his hands and for the gift they dole.
Passing through the equator on deck Karl Axel crams a knife into a decking joint for his son and brother and self to view what no shadow falls from it. A tailwind steady with the ship and hotness grows. A stoker is brought up from below.
From Capetown for a week the Ruapehu is woven to the rivets in a family of waves unended and severe. The hull’s dip a steel bobbin gone tucked under by the side waves who break entire like bended clouds or whole drifted ponds. Most on board become ill. And there is the notion of smallness on a globe unworried for a single ship or its final port. The scale of all their seeing pulled through a famous lens. Then calmness struck and resurrected all save few who harbored in them yet a tossing remnant and who could know if their inner weather wasn’t taut for good.
Against the weather was a concert in which ten waiters used coal dust to change their outlook and they were enjoyed that night and the night upcoming. From Capetown southeast driven down a sidewind menaced the ship fro in heeling, such a list gone steep a body didn’t stand a chance without some grip or rail. Southeast toward the Crozet Islands about which an ask is builded in to all such passing ships to survey the risen land there in the chance these remotes harbor men whose strand has prisoned them. The twin hope to not find and to find a crew stuck. To not find was the Ruapehu’s luck so east as east can chart. A fortnight’s beeline. The wind a steady throwback. The roaring longitude living to its name and with this ever back breeze in assist the Ruapehu barges on due east into the long unbroken heart of the voyage. In snow for days a mid-sea blizzard hounds full upon them. Makes the world a world inside itself or like a smaller version with inside it only sea and one ship dusted. Axel and Georg compare ideas on what could be much less at all than what they are on board the ship just then.
In daytime undeterred by how the weather pockets them a band of English cause a running race. The race includes the uncorking of soda water and to finish without a touch of the bottle to the mouth. Circuits of the ship’s rear lounge excelled at by one enlivened priest whose speed of foot reminded them in witness of a hunting dog and whose acumen to finish bottles conjured Uhlin’s beer house in Lervik. Another challenge on deck saw men in crouch tied at the wrist and a rule laid down in chalk.
Nineteen days in such an eastern course whose sole vantage the open sea whose sole rhythm the engines below and days from light to dark and back. Then land was spotted and ahoyed, the passengers coming up from below along the rail their no few languages declaring beauty upon Tasmania.
Georg on a bunk inside the hold. Below him Karl Axel and Axel Herman, the father outlining the son their bodies one coiled about the smaller. Little sunlight touches them. Coal dust and tobacco smoke have changed the essence of their wool blanket that once housed the notion of from where they come. Axel Herman the son of Karl Axel and Gustava, his mother gone of fever his infant sister Gustava Karolina left in the care of her aunt — these threads back to his Sweden most fragile. The memories builded in him are like a spider’s net, unseen at first but given time and dust become more revealed. His past a play in the garden of the stories inside us and the heart.
In Australia a palm reader in Portland looks at the working hands of Karl Axel and refuses to predict for him his course and arc but instead shakes her head slowly and offers their difference in language as a ruse. You will get what you want. Karl Axel consults her out of light curiosity but her refusal to predict him is what he lugs as a question. An open cup for asking into. The hand of Axel Herman is offered up and the darkness is lifted from the palmreader’s outlook and she traces with her finger the lines of this young handside. She says he will instruct but a zag in his life line tells change and travel. She looks up from her shaded street table these clouded blind eyes who catch young Herman’s stare.
Joiners for a year Karl Axel and Georg learn Japanese timber joints full common in Australia. They vend and ply this trade until Georg plans for them to fish and gets them in tow behind the Hawea to pull their own fishing boat the Ventureto Port Campbell.
“This undoubtedly referred to two brothers named Persson who had decided to commence fishing operations in Port Campbell.” — Portland Guardian
Karl Axel ends his final letter to the Soderhamns Tidning in Sweden with this sentence: To eradicate the sparrow a shooting premium is paid.
Heavy sea at the quay outside Port Campbell runs the brothers and theVenture toward the east reef and the breakers there. An immense sea tops the Venture broadside and leaves her hull-up, the brothers Karl Axel and Georg in cling to the upturned hull, their keeled hands an only hope. From the Hawea a corked rope floats out toward the east reef but the making swell unallows the Hawea such a closeness for to reach them with it. The swell continues and unrelents upon the brothers clung there to the hull. The sea is too enraged to send rescue boats against it so Port Campbell watches the hull and the two men thereupon it and the sea who means to land the brothers. At dusk the green hills of Port Campbell fetch the glow of this fled day and from the nearest hill it’s noticed that only one man now clings to the tossing hull. At dawn there is no man and there is no hull and pieces of the Venture wash up onto the beaches at Port Campbell.
Axel Herman is five years old. It is unknown what he is told about the sea and how the sea came up and through no plan took off for good his uncle and his father.
A line on the love of Axel Herman
She was sended down from hidden spas the globe her cherrystone and her work was a feather up against the skin we shed and then her strong heart one morning came into a flourish gone mad inside its own madness like two painted birds gone berserk for the same kivver, in a shallow pool they went waded side by each and then the pool teetered on its hinge and left them up against it there to wrestle with the notion of entire versus half and with the notion of a world who gives or one who rips away and to wrestle with each other.
A line on the death of Axel Herman
Suited as he is for Munson Trade School and the walk he’s done for scores of years in deep set winter inside his woolen coat and hat the day full clear and early sunlight banks off the snow at hand as such Axel Herman bundled gets to school his olden skin a thin cold paper wrap until the warm of his one classroom ends the chill and setting down his coat and then his hat he sits down at the desk he knows and feels the tingle when hands who go from cold to warm again regain their blood and tingles follow through the limb it so occurs this feel and upward like a slow gone beetle carries volts and numbness up his arms and soon his whole entire is a volt and shotted numb so Axel Herman puts his head down on his desk for god damn he might just need a piece of rest is all.