The Armada

Through the meridian’s fine blue hairlines, the admirals are converging
in their fish-hulled ships, with their frogmen and sirens, and tanks with knotted chain flails
that beat the ground before them as they crawl.

Behind them the cities dim out, on the foredeck the admirals sigh
to lean from the curving bows, to trail
their fingertips in the water . . .

All alone on the landmass, the Ship’s Artist simply draws what he sees:
red men with arms like flesh clubs, blue-daubed men with parasol feet
and fish with weeping human faces. The sonic boom arrives at his feet

in the palest ripples. In the painting, Gloriana rides under arms
towards Tilbury Town. Her profile shimmers in the sodium lights
that seem to cast no shadows before or behind her.

Like compass pencils of light, their fingertips spread out
the nervous systems more complex than spiral nebulae.
Orchards of mines grow up on the ocean floor.

Now under radar they study the green road glowing
and add a late-rising moon. The sea so full of maprooms, and the cliffs
chalked with weaponry symbols, trailing the phosphorescence of minesquads.

Only the grassblown Norman ringmounds go on dreaming
of Monet picture hats and streaming scarves,
the bunker disguised as a picnic, that went on forever.

Now the Cathedral at Bayeux, with its window and views, is rolled up
and the Conqueror’s navy on its blue worsted waves
and Hengist and Horsa, the Escorial with its green shoals of ships, all are safely rolled up.

Behind the Atlantic Wall, that Rommel called “Cloud-Cuckoo-Land,” the white-and-liver-cows
moo through the milky light. The human faces carved
on Norman beams face out to the sea, which has grown

this answering forest of rigging. And very soon, just as soon
as the sea can see the land and the land the sea
the two of them will go to war.

Anne Winters, “The Armada” from The Key to the City, published by The University of Chicago Press. Copyright © 1986 by Anne Winters. Used by permission of the author.
Source: The Key to the City (The University of Chicago Press, 1986)
More Poems by Anne Winters