Submarine (WWI)

20150407-061741-22661252.jpgSubmarine (WWI)

The men would scurry from one end of the canister
to the other, human ballast for flow
or torpedo, as he, captain, peered out the short tower
through a glower of misted glass; his task: to make sure
of not-missing, though they did not miss much
at the range submergence admitted.

There were many seamen, of course.
able-bodied no longer, and passengers he justified
with rue.  But what he most remembered was
the horse, the spidered dapple of twitching flanks,
the waves of quake and pulse as it was push-pulled towards
a leap onto a metal lifeboat–how the sky over the
North Atlantic–he seemed to see the whole
through the small skewed scope–
bunched grey as the clouded flesh, bucking teeth yellowed
as sea foam, wild eyes red-blackened
as oiled flames, the darkened forelegs battering the clatter
like swung clubs of the falling night.

He ordered the U-boat down
shouting you, you, at men who needed to move
to keep the balance,
only it was not exactly you in German,
and the tramp of their bare feet less
like hooves–


A poem of sorts for the 7th day of this April – 2015 National Poetry Month–linked to Real Toads Open Platform.  A German U-boat was a submarine–I think the official name was “untersee boot.”   The above photograph is not mine, and all rights are reserved to the holder.  (In my poem, the men are scurrying around inside the U-boat, not on the top, but I just loved that photograph.)


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21 Comments on “Submarine (WWI)”

  1. I don’t want to imagine what it was like to be in a WWI sub. That is an interesting picture though I’m glad your poem has the men inside : )

  2. Sanaa Rizvi Says:

    Alot of depth & intensity here… beautifully executed!

  3. Kerry O'Connor Says:

    When watching old movies set in submarines, I was always struck by how the sailors manage to overcome the twin fears of drowning and claustrophobia. Those scenes made me anxious – and the U-boat in your picture looks so flimsy.

  4. Susan Says:

    “Canister!” “human ballast!” But most, I like the captain, recall the horse that is the sea, bucking and foaming and remaining untamed in all wars everywhere. Wow.

  5. Ravenblack Says:

    One can somewhat visualize the action of the men and get the feel of the excitement/anxiousness, imagine the sounds as they scramble in the cramp of that U-boat. Cool to read.

  6. Sherry Marr Says:

    You paint the scene so clearly and I most love the closing lines, with the tramp of their bare feet less like hooves. Very cool!

  7. Mama Zen Says:

    The description of the horse is so vivid! Fantastic writing.

  8. hedgewitch Says:

    You have really drawn a viciously accurate snapshot of war here, softened with your usual compassionate care for the battering of all human hearts, which here seem caught in a ‘canister’ horribly compressing, dangerous in all ways, and narrow. The middle stanza is possible one of the best descriptive passages I have read–every note is pitch-perfect, every word pulls double-weight, and the sadness and horror are almost lost in the smoke of confused desperation; the ‘need to not-miss’ that means survival, at the expense of…everything else? Anyway, a fine poem, Karin, strong and true.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks. I spent all day regretting the last stanza that I took out but will maybe re-do some time; and it may not have been right. I have been very struck reading about the U-boat guys – and soldiers in general–this willingness to accept the human carnage, but the revulsion at the death of animals–of course, it makes sense–the animals having nothing to do with all of this– anyway–not happy with this but must just keep going right now. k.

  9. This is intense and well done, K!

  10. Gillena Cox Says:

    There is so much in this capture of submarine life during the war, thanks for sharing your thoughts

    Have a creative month

    Much love…

  11. Miss Stacy Says:

    this is an amazing write.

    i feel as if you gave me a glimpse into a part of the world, an experience of the sea, that i would not have enjoyed otherwise.

    you made this so vivid and realistic. thanks for sharing.

  12. Snakypoet (Rosemary Nissen-Wade) Says:

    It is indeed a great photograph. And your poem is rich with movement, images, story. Brilliant!

  13. M Says:

    you bring us there, on both sides of the periscope, K, with the anxiety and fear like a face just below the surface. well penned ~

  14. Ella Says:

    Your poem puts us there~! I could feel the anxiety~
    I love those old photos-you did a great job with this one!

  15. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in a submarine during war or any other time. You cause us to feel the fear, the ghosts in the water whether imagined or enemy. Fantastic piece

  16. Brendan Says:

    You do imagine it … and from such a sharp angle. There’s a new book out about the sinking of the Lusitania, “Dead Wake” by Eric Larsen. Read the review and was fascinated with how Larsen tried to see it some through the periscope of the German U-boat that sunk it. The pathos of that here, most so for the victim you have chosen to see here, the terrified horse someone is trying to get into a lifeboat. At least, that’s how I read this. Somehow all of it makes me feel how frail and foolish we are trying to master water.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks, Brendan. I had another verse that made the poem clearer and probably should include. I have the Larsen book, which is interesting, but not really that well put-together somehow–at least not to my mind–but the details about the U-boat are of course pretty fascinating. k.

  17. You bring focus to one of the many perils of submarine duty: Balance, The other was the sheer claustrophobia of sub life. No matter what side of any war, the demands had to be incredible. Remember Das Boot? The German version, which showed the sub’s tight quarters as they were. Thanks for the image, even the “topside” image! Your words are vivid and a bit frightening. Saw you on ABC! Amy

  18. Kim Nelson Says:

    Perhaps balance is an issue for everyone, everything, in every situation. A thought!

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