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Midst howling wind through dead of night, just south of Lewes land, I fell upon a box of old, half buried in the sand.  I pulled and tugged, and dug to set it free then hauled it high above the water line debris.  ‘Twas rusted shut.


Propped astride a grassy dune, the small but heavy sea chest sat green-hinged and ominous before me.  Many a chantey it’s broken, rotted, leather-handled ears have surely heard.  And many a cussword dare have stung its sea salt smooth and weathered wood.


Long abode for barnacles—rugged, thick encrusted clumps of white that stood the test of time, reveal the hint of separation ‘tween body, lid and feet.  And by eye’s measure, the sorts and depths of grooves it bears through wood, worm-eaten, makes me think it’s thrice been bloodied, hacked—and battle-beaten.


I step back now and contemplate corrosion that encapsulates the latch.  One swift kick begs my boot and heel to release some sailor’s long-forgotten cache.  But dare I?  Dare I break its bond?  “Nay!” my insides woefully cry, “‘Tis not my box to open up, nor memories to pry.”


Curiosity though rolls down my arm and moves my hand to touch its ghastly scars as then—just then—a thimbleful of rust breaks free and thuds so silent to the sand, I stare.  I swear.  It stops me there.  Shaking in my boots, an icy chill runs up my spine, as all at once . . . a  d i s t a n t  moan . . .


Standing there for ten and twenty, my heart-thumps wildly beat.  Trembling there for hours, it seems, the chest before my feet.  No one ‘twas near for me to call—though no one wouldst believe—my tale of sea chest, rust and moan (and just the box and me alone).


That wretched moan again!  Closer now—or perchance I pray, just louder?  ‘Tis like a dying cow, I swear, bellowing deep in pain.  My palms and forehead burst to sweat.  My brain near burst to fear!  (Why could I not have left it there half-buried in the sand?)


Yet still unmoved   the   sea   chest   sat.  And still the moan grew more intense.  Then sudden-ly a thunderous rumble tumbled toward me from on high.   It jarred my mind . .  . it blurred my eyes . . . it spun me on my heels to turn for help.


And when I spun I flung myself to fall in fear upon my face and fell upon the sands of time . . . I fell to emptiness . . . to  s  p  a  c  e.  The moaning now was loud and clear: echoing, echoing, echoing, echoing, echoing all around me.  On hands and knees, I turned to see the chest: no  l o n g e r  t h e r e !


And in its place, a  G  I  A  N  T  wave came ROARING, R   O   A   R   I   N   G   down on me.  I struggled desperately to run; I scrambled to my feet; futilely I turned again to fight the flood came C  R  A  S  H  I  N  G down on me.


Then just before I was consumed, I saw the rusted box up high . . . its lid was lifted off, I saw (and evil laughs replaced the moan) . . . and O C E A N poured from out its depths.
I gave a gasp, a hollow groan.



Years now have come, and years have gone.
And somewhere lurking in the night, just south of Lewes land
is rusted shut, green-hinged, a chest
half-buried in the sand.
Should ere YOU fall upon the box, don’t touch it!
Let it stand.
The original version of this poem was published in 1974 in the literary journal of Ocean County College, Toms River, NJ. Various adaptations made over the years have led to the poem as it appears above and was presented in a reading for the Rehoboth Beach Writer’s Guild at the FISH ON! restaurant in historic Lewes, Delaware, on March 11, 2008.    

4 comments so far

4 Comments to “A DELAWARE SAILOR’S TALE OF WARNING (A poem by Hal Alpiar)”

  1. Bob Wainwrighton 15 Feb 2008 at 2:41 pm

    As one who is constantly searching for the treasure chest, I thoroughly enjoyed this insightful piece. Life’s treasure is always one wave away.

    [An internationally respected PT professional, Bob is founder of LIFE Health & Fitness Centers and Kinimatic Consultants Physical Therapy based in Point Pleasant, NJ, he is a pioneer in the use of 3-D motion capture photography in healthcare]

  2. C Kennedyon 19 Feb 2008 at 6:14 pm

    Impressive! Poetry as deep as the ocean floor and very inspirational. The mixture of form, style and visual makes your writing stand out beyond the norm. I enjoy your poetry the most and I hope you publish more of it here . . . it seems to hit closest to your soul.

  3. Cyndion 26 Feb 2008 at 2:59 am

    Please Sir, may we have another?
    This one contained my 3 favorite literary ingredients in equal parts….


    Mix well for a delicious treat!

    Great visual form…

    Thanks Hal!

    [Cyndi Freschi is president of NAVCCTV (North American Video Closed Circuit TV) a world-leading provider of video surveillance and security systems http://www.navcctv.com]

  4. helenon 27 Feb 2008 at 6:12 pm

    Hal! I’m so impressed! Your descriptive writing is phenominal. There’s more than just footprints in the sand.

    [Helen Stark is a retired New Jersey teacher and supervisor of special education programs, residing in Seawood Harbor on Barnegat Bay]

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