Quarterdeck Poetry Contest
The winner of the 2009 Quarterdeck Poetry Contest was Pamela Mansfield, for her poem “Verdigris – The Man at the Wheel.” As a girl, Pam lived across the street from the Man at the Wheel statue and often played on and around the Craske sculpture. Her father fished out of Gloucester and, in a remarkable coincidence, celebrated his birthday August 23, the same day as the original dedication of the statue, in 1925.
The contest also recognized three finalists: Amber Gailitis for “A Letter from Gloucester,” Neal Kleindienst for “Let a Prayer be Said,” and Lydia Priest for “Beyond Home.”
Verdigris – The Man at the Wheel
by Pamela Mansfield
Blessed by your unwavering gaze
faithful fleets steer a course
long known to the fishermen of Gloucester.
At the helm, bronzed hands grip a spoked wheel,
sou’wester and visage age to a patina.
My father was one who sailed from this harbor
And returned with a trip of fish
all but one voyage, but you take note
of they that go down to the sea in ships.
See, you seek them even now.
Fog horn moans, salt waves sigh.
Light encompasses a churning dark sea.
Steadfast through nor’easters, winter’s ice,
you emerge in summer’s green, sparkling sky,
flowers at your feet, dedications
Ringed around you, children perched
on your shoulder, grandmothers posed for
portraits and fathers making a pilgrimage to recall
Fresh sea breezes and spin fishing tales and speak of
those now permanently cast in bronze tablets,
immortalizing the single memory of each man gone.
We say their names knowing but a few of their stories –
their perfect storm of ironies so nearly shared.
Troubles, fate, one last trip on board
An ill-fated vessel. Yet, you glorify them
and we cannot help but look out to sea
following your gaze to herald their safe return.
A Letter from Gloucester
by Amber Gailitis
In old New England houses letters collect like dust –
Your letters, Maximus, to my seaside city
(to your seaside city)
surface over time like driftwood.
Words about change, about love and miracles,
about gulls that still stand on rooftops,
about rooftops, sloping view upon the water,
about water upon which schooners still sway.
But there are some changes letters cannot preserve:
The sandy shoreline a mere skeleton,
eroded bones of the whole body you once wrote upon.
Movie crews invading like mosquitoes, certain seasons,
recreating storms, perfect catastrophes.
The Man at the Wheel still standing his post – tired and weathered,
guarding the ocean that swallowed his boat and his men whole –
now has a wife in a flowing dress, holding a small child,
widowed by the water.
Maximus, Gloucester remembers your words
because you and I, our city, are afraid of change.
In every letter lies your life, my life,
our city – and your ocean of poems.
Let a Prayer be Said
by Neal Kleindienst
We’d laugh and play
all the day,
between his labors at sea.
Now that’s changed,
my days rearranged.
He’s no longer there for me.
I heard it said,
what I most dreaded
and feared the long nights through,
that a ship was lost
at the terrible cost
of her captain and the crew.
What can I say
of that tragic day?
What dirge be upon my lips?
Let a prayer be said
for her dead,
they that do gown to the sea in ships.
by Lydia Priest
Through driving rain and heaving surf,
the fisherman hunches at schooner’s wheel,
caught forever in sculptor’s mode.
He and his wheel stand among bronze plaques,
in memory of fishermen more real than he.
Some say he’s setting out to sea,
but I see him heading back, his catch stowed,
his family on the boulevard
eyes strained seaward.
He’s steering towards harbor home.
The prospective quarter’s half
the sea-faring trade but still
the coping wife waits eternally,
unseen away from Gloucester,
she and their kids taking up the slack.