I Was a Sailor

Today’s Navy is a world apart from the Navy i served for twenty-two years. The change had begun as i was completing my active duty. Women were becoming part of seagoing world. Computers were becoming more and more critical to getting the job done. Gas turbine plants were replacing the old classic steam engines. i expressed my feelings in a poem included in these posts before and was part of my book, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems. i will not judge which Navy is better or worse. They are just different, that’s all. But i sure liked going to sea in the old Navy. i am posting this in a group called “US Navy Gearing Class Destroyers.” Old sailors. i hope they enjoy it.

I Was a Sailor

I was a sailor
when the boatswainmates
swept down and triced up;
the decks were spotless;
first division stood
at the ready on the forecastle to
cast away all lines;
the sleek greyhound visaged lady
got underway,
no tugs,
no bow thrusters
like they, the pansies are required to use
no sir:
we ruled the seas
standing proud in quarters standing out,
no manning the rails for show,
we did it like it was supposed to be;
the bow cut through the channel like
it owned the sea,
the trough slid up the side
only feet under the gunwale;
the stern wash was white with foam:
we were underway,
rocking and rolling.

I was a sailor
back when being a sailor
was tantamount to being a man;
there weren’t no great number
of automatic controls back then,
not one hell of a lot of video games or graphics to read:
you turned the valves and the steam hissed;
you cleaned the boiler plates on the lower level
with the blowers blasting air in your face
for relief from the hot wet heat;
inserting the plates and firing it up
hoping it wouldn’t smoke white
blow your ass
off the naval station
to kingdom come;
the boilers would rumble,
groan and croak,
spew their smoke out the stack,
build up steam
until there weren’t no smoke
the boiler tenders
down in the bowels
knew they would be
getting underway
we lined up the feed pumps;
kicked off the auxiliaries,
went on ship’s power,
dropping our umbilical cords from the pier
like the doctor cuts the cord
on the newborn:
separating us from mother earth,
sending us to the bounding main;
when we turned the nozzles of steam
onto the turbines of the main engine,
watching the tree trunk sized shaft
turning slowly;
the engine room wheezed and coughed:
made us feel like we
were in a jungle of sweltering pumps and motors
while the distilling plants gurgled with
Rube Goldberg smugness,
making you wonder if
they would really make
good water

I was a sailor
back when we manned the big guns,
not standing apart, aloof, with computer controls
in the air conditioned spaces
but inside those big guns,
metal death traps where
we stood alongside the breech
when the firing shook our brains, our guts, our souls
we loved the thrill of it all;
the brass kicked out the aft end;
the hot case man with his asbestos gloves
smacked them out onto the rolling deck:
no automatic, manless machine of death
back then.

I was a sailor
back when we didn’t know
what the hell politically correct meant,
back when they meant
|what they said when they said,
“if the navy wanted you to have a wife,
they would have issued you one.”
Navy was a way of life,
living on board, locker in a club
just outside the main gate
with civvies,
you could go down to sailor town,
drink beer and cheap whiskey,
enough to make the woman look
pretty enough to pay
for the night so
you could get back in time
for quarters at 0700
unless there was a fight.

I was a sailor back then
when men were men
sailors were sailors
then was then.

2 thoughts on “I Was a Sailor

  1. Well said, Jim. I keep thinking of the movie “Sand Pebbles” when I read this poem. I think this poem applies to most careers and times gone by. At least it does to teaching. Say hi to Maureen.


  2. Nicely conceived and written, Jim. I particularly like the stanza re getting underway. Seamanship like we learned from trusting COs is lost.It’s all about risk management these days. Happy Vets Day, shipmate.

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