Sea Figures

Credit: Cat Dossett over Betty Parsons' "The Moth" (1969)


In recent weeks and months, many small craft

have spilled their passengers into the sea.

A few days ago, I glimpsed a headline:

another ship capsizes, adds its share

of frantic cargo to the loss column.

Hundreds of bodies, or perhaps thousands,

are drifting with the migrating currents.

Warm, upwelling water lifts them sunward;

cold conveys them down, into dark layers

populated by strange, deep-sea species

whose bodies flash a blue-green semaphore…

Thousands, tens of thousands. Another score

is hardly noteworthy. Suffice to say,

the number who have drowned is some large sum.




Sine ira et studio, we don’t cope

with large numbers well. Here’s a simpler case:

Two men. Dead, washed up on the shore of Greece.

For the sake of this exercise, not black,

but something more conducive—Syrian,

say, and clean-shaven. (Don’t be distracted

by their eyes, how the red burst vessels seem

to spell out a fraught message… ) Make sense yet?

If you’re still confused, picture this instead:

A young boy. Just the one. In his red shirt,

lying face-down in the surf. Salt-water

mixes with the foam of blood in his lungs.

As a goad to emotion it works well

but as data, we know, it means little.


by Zak Bos