Peter Vanderberg

3 Poems



            [ lauds ]


Make a plan.  Stay optimistic.  Your time adrift is likely to be brief & relatively comfortable.  Tell motivational stories.


There once was a fisherman lost at sea.  He collected rain water, ate fish raw.  Four months later he walked ashore, drownproof.



            [ prime ]


Your life raft is equipped with everything you need. First-aid kit, compass, pocket knife, signal mirror, blankets — learn survival before disaster.  Train for the unimaginable.



            [ terce ]


Without water, delirium comes within four days, death in ten.  Drink rain.  Do not drink urine.  Do not drink seawater. 



            [ sext ]


Tear cloth & weave into fishing line.  A hook can be made from a safety pin.  Most ocean fish can be eaten raw.  However, avoid the poisonous:












Sea birds may land on your raft.  Kill & eat immediately.  Feathers can be used to insulate clothing, bones make fish hooks, beaks make lures.  The downy breast can be made into a hat.

            [ nones ]


Don’t trail your hands or feet in the water if sharks are present.  If you can kill a shark, they are good to eat.  However, the blood of a shark will attract other sharks.


Screaming underwater may put off an approaching shark.



            [ vespers ]


After a time adrift at sea, a man may stand still & weep. 


A man may dive off the raft to “go below for a cup of coffee.” 


Make short term personal goals.  Maintain faith in America by singing patriotic songs.



            [ compline ]


Never press spiritual considerations if doing so divides the group or creates dissension.  Exercise personal religious rituals, if any.  Practice silent meditation.



            [ matins ]


If no life raft is available, “play dead” to stay alive at sea.  Face down, arms & legs loose — relax.  Lift your head to breathe & scan horizon for birds, boats, flotsam.  Do not waste energy screaming (unless sharks are present). 


In this way sailors can drift for days — drownproof.




"Drownproof" draws on various sources of U.S. Navy instructions for survival at sea, primarily the 1964 Special Issue: Safety and Survival At Sea, All Hands Magazine.


First Night at War


      Underestimating your enemy means thinking he is evil.

      Thus you destroy your three treasures

      & become an enemy yourself.

                                                     — Lao-tzu


Off the coast of war General Quarters woke the hive.  Helmets & flack jackets donned on the run toward deck guns.  I heave open a watertight door: Horizon flash — no thunder. Another.  Between mute bursts I face Afghanistan & remember the Pashtun. Unwritten nomadic laws demand revenge & asylum.         


My ghost sits with tribal elders drinking chai, translating the word enemy.  


Or I am the enemy sending bullets to hearts & minds.  


Or I am safe at sea squaring my fear of death with those deaths silently brightening my horizon.



0800 — 1200:  Forenoon Watch


Engine Room rounds — I find Machinist Mate Bruce

wavering behind the boiler, staring down a gauge. 

His eyes, dull like a sick animal’s, are slow

to distinguish me from machinery or memory. 

I ask how his big date was. 


Sir, (he laughs) she tasted like peach cobbler. 


Not peaches, but cobbler: that home sweetness,

ripe fruit, softened, wet, broken crust.


Bruce leads me to the devil’s chair.  

Between bulkhead & furnace, one needle trembles

just below catastrophe.  Iron heat evaporates thought. 


Look sir, my damn kneecaps sweat through my pants.


The pitch of Bruce’s laughter rises to fever,

then drowns in the groan of turbines.