Shelley is reading Keats. He imagines
“dove-footed” Hermes on the coast of Leghorn,
his movement so swift only his toes brush
the hot sand. It’s early afternoon
but looks more like twilight. Thunderheads
obscure Italian sun.
Ariel slices Ligurian waves,
two tons of iron ballast holding her steady.
Williams mutters about the weather, his eyes
fixed on the taut canvas. He worries
about the wind which drives hard
from the southwest, how the ship leans leeward.
Shelley is unconcerned. He sinks into reverie
while the salty air fills his lungs
and he sleeps. When the squalls begin
he rises, folds back the pages of his book
and places it in his breast pocket.
Williams has torn off his jacket, one boot.
He’s cursing the storm as he prepares to swim.
Shelley cannot swim. He is not afraid.
As the boat takes on water he wishes,
but only for an instant, that he had wings
at his feet to carry him over the dark surface.