Shanty by Paul Sherman

In the brown-stained bar of the oak-beamed Cornish pub,
a singer of shanties, an aging salt, sings out his sea songs.
His face is as old as coral but his eyes are bright aquamarine
and he captivates us landlubbers with his every sung stanza.
Way haul away, we’ll haul away Joe.

Gnarled and grizzled, grey and frizzled, a living legend of the sea,
he holds his right hand to his face and weaves his ocean spell.
In his voice you hear the sea’s low gravelly roar
and in his fathomless eyes, you see the briny deep itself.
Go down you blood red roses, go down.

His tough and corrugated brows resemble sea grasses hugging the shore,
whilst his calloused hands are as eroded as the coastline.
The movement of his left hand is like a fish startled by a predator
as he punctuates his stories with short staccato stabs.
Take a turn around the capstan, heave away.

The scent of his oil skins carries the aroma of rum and tar and fish.
Stand near and hear his stertorous wheeze, like the wind on deck,
the result of pulling on his briar pipe and inhaling smoke for an age.
Sway his nautical swagger a step or two and feel the deck move beneath your feet.
Around Cape Horn where the stiff winds do blow.

He ran away from home, not yet a man, when just fifteen
and sailed his life away, from Portsmouth, on a barque heading for the East Indies.
This mariner has pulled many a rope in his time, long haul, short haul,
and barked out his shanties to the rhythm of the call.
Just tell me old ship mates, I’m taking a trip mates.

People with pints listen, entranced.  They experience the salt-flecked spray.
Through him they live the ocean wave and read the stars.
Nicotine stained walls bear silent witness to the folk tales that unfold
as they move to the grey-green ever-shifting floor of surf and sea.
Leave her Johnny, leave her.
For the voyage is o’er and the winds they do blow
So it’s time for us to leave her.

Paul Sherman

Paul is a teacher, author and director of Youth Drama. He has had short stories and poems published in magazines and online. He has also written plays which have been performed in various locations in the UK, including ‘the Arsehole at the End of the Universe’ at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh








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