The Sailor And The Shore at the Carwash


I was at the carwash because after a little tiff with my wife over something inconsequential – I think it was whether or not I was an idiot for not knowing the difference between a concert band and a show band – I’d driven overnight out West and gone down some dirt tracks after the rain. It had been a long time since it was cleaned inside and out and, covered in congealed eucalypt sap and mud, it needed a professional job.

We usually get a discount at this carwash because my wife taught their son English. They were here washing cars because they’d be dead back there, along with all their race. I sat in an old green velour armchair with my complimentary coffee and watched them shout at each other over the sound of the high pressure water guns and industrial vacuum cleaners while the matriarch opened the drinks fridge door to cool herself.

I had brought Pessoa with me, to while away the wait, and he said, “I am having one of those days in which I never had a future…” There is the father spraying liquid soap – it’s his business, it’s doing well, everyone plays their part, his wife up-sells and makes coffee, his son works hard on the hoses, friends and relatives will always find a job here if ever they need one. It’s down to him that every one is fed and housed and educated. He knows success. There is the young man, a silver necklace and Adidas track pants, and I remember doing jobs like that, shunting one unit from here to there in the same routine – junk mail, flowers, phone calls, planks, pizzas. These lives must be more complicated than I can guess but I know he knows there’s more to life than this. I wondered if he knew or cared about the poetry from ancient central Asia, full of horses, wisdom and women made of precious stones.

Pessoa said, “There are ships sailing to many ports, but not a single one goes where life is not painful; nor is there any port of call where it is possible to forget.” Fernando Pessoa, writing his letter in Lisbon, poised at the extremity of Europe, the port that opens out indefinitely to everywhere in the world, to Africa, Asia, America. A country simply named for its ancient port. A country where there is a word for a sad longing in memory of someone long absent, saudade.

In some other land
you played with sunlight
and waved a blade of grass.
You carried snow to the mountains
and lifted a seagull’s wing.
For centuries you sailed ships and sunk them.
What word were you
when you passed my love’s lips?

When her sailor leaves he says she is his shore.
Every day she waits alone with all his words,
she loses him to the sea again,
or maybe to a whore.
On the day he comes ashore
the only thing she can trust is his lust.
In time she waits for him to sail again
and his words, they speak no more.

Pessoa, you may be having one of those days where a thousand ports are a thousand pains, but love still finds its thousand forms waiting in a carwash.