Diving for Treasure
In memoriam, Richard Eberhart

Tidal flats near Chincoteague, off Wallops Light,
sometimes harbor wrecks of Spanish treasure fleets
shifting over centuries in the soft sea-bed nearby.
I’m told crews sleep a wretched sleep, like that
of men too full of evening meat, or those condemned
by bloated consciences to virulent lost dreams.

Sometimes the moonlight strikes the water’s furrowed crust
like searcher’s beams and probes the cradling mass.
Sometimes, like layers of mica, silver-black, the tensile sea
resists all light and heaves it at the land, or back
into its source as if preferring to remain
Death’s secret agent or the twin of night.

Wrecks must hold promises of more than storied gold:
An eye of emerald, or oysters’ ivory tears, or silver chains
are too encrusted with usurious desire to explain
the tidal pull of treasure on enflamed imaginations.
Sunk in wild savannas of the sea, the riotous history
of our souls seems to call to us to lure our prescient urge

to cease to be. Is there not more incentive than the black
tooth of an ancestral planking nail that might betray
some hulls hidden by centuries, to the trained eye?
Is there not more than peacock pluck that drives us to dive,
packed in knuckled tires of pressure, down, down,
under this deceptive canopy of flooded graves?

Is it the stunned survivor in each one of us, epigone
of our defeated childhood fears, expecting to return,
delivered from our threadbare poverty, with ingot hives
or massive chests crammed full of jeweled Aztec blood?
Or is only the flawed hope that sifting through the vestiges
of sunken history, we’ll find more tangled, seminal truth?

Returned, we preen as though the masters of the beach
and flashbulb air, and to some brief degree, warily astride
untamed seas; or, because by uncovering to journal praise
the wreckages of time, we finally prove, if only to ourselves,
that death must give up what it cannot hold, like phallic dwarves
or other talismans of feathered gold, worried by cunning fingers

long since bleached, that death could keep, into memorials
as invulnerable to alluvial decay as serial hurricanes.
If only we could find among the barnacled doubloons
and silt-primed cannons, a just trace of the soul’s rage
and heart’s calm needed to thread azimuths of unexpected
storms through needle eyes, to reach a tallyman’s shrewd glance

on binding shores, devised for dying old. Instead we find only a few
worn signs that prove, or seem to prove, that the bland seas
and blank skies, that eased those avaricious galleons by some
unwary helmsman’s pride, until surprise sucked them through
vortices of doom, onto the Atlantic’s shelves off Chincoteague,
were never only covetous, only malevolent, or ever lied.

Oswald LeWinter

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