There’s just something about poetry. Unlike prose, the meaning behind the words is not always immediately apparent, but the emotions behind it… The ability of poetry to evoke deep feelings is almost music-like. John Masefield’s poem Sea Fever has been a favorite of mine for many years. His poem in part was my inspiration for this little story…
Call of the Stars
“What are you looking for that you have to go out there to find it?”
I could never give her an answer when she asked me that question. Dozens of times over the course of many years, Sari had asked me that question. No matter how many times those brown eyes pleaded with me to give her some kind of answer, I never did. Not that I didn’t want to answer, rather, I couldn’t answer. How could I explain something that I couldn’t quite figure out myself?
I ran my fingers through the black hair that I’d recently decided to cut short for a change. She recognized the nearly automatic gesture as the play for time that it was. Growing up with someone acquaints you pretty well with their “tells” and Sari knew that giving me a minute to think would yield better results than pushing for an immediate answer.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” I sighed heavily, “I can’t really explain it any better than to say that I have to go.”
Sari rolled her eyes and blew out a breath in a huff. It was my standard reply to her query, and I couldn’t exactly blame her for being tired of the same answer. But, I reasoned, she couldn’t expect anything different after all of this time. If she didn’t want to hear the spiel then she should let it be. But little sisters didn’t tend to just let anything be… at least mine didn’t.
“It’s just,” the petite woman began and hesitated before continuing on, “It’s just that the last few trips you’ve been gone for so long. I know that you’d never be able to keep your feet on the ground, not for long anyway, but I worry about you.”
I opened my mouth to chide her for her worrying, but she stopped me with a raised hand and continued on, “I worry that I’ll never hear from you again. I worry that something will happen and I’ll never know about it. That you’ll just disappear… like…”
She stared down at the toes of her red shoes peeking out from beneath the hem of her brown dress. I had just teased her about those shoes three days ago, telling her that they couldn’t possibly be practical for a farmer’s wife. She waved off my comments and insisted that wearing red shoes made her smile. It was so like Sari to find joy in small things. Maybe that’s why she gave the impression of being at peace most of the time. That may seem an incongruous thing to say considering her admission of worrying about me. But she had reason to carry that nagging doubt in the back of her mind. I spoke of that reason in a hushed voice.
“Like Dad did.”
“We never found out what happened to him, and I know that we probably never will. It’s just… it’s the not knowing that’s the hardest part,” she admitted. The regret in her eyes was clear, and truth be told, I wrestled with the same feelings about Dad’s disappearance more than 20 years prior.
I tipped my head to look up at the deep purple horizon and the rising twin moons. It had been Dad that had given me my first flying lesson around those very moons. Looking past the two cratered companions I mentally counted off constellations as my eyes roamed the early evening sky. How many times as a child had I stared up into the night sky, dreaming? I could tell her that it was just because of the adventure, the chance to go places and see things that no one else had. I could tell her that I couldn’t help but follow in Dad’s footsteps. Maybe that was part of it… but it wasn’t the real reason.
I had read about archaic sailing ships from centuries past, and how men would brave tremendous dangers when they went to sea. Few ever became wealthy or well-known because of it. They went to sea because standing on the deck of that wooden ship, they knew deep down that it was where they belonged. I suppose it’s sort of a romantic notion, but I understood it in a way that I just couldn’t put into words. An ancient poem that had been written by a man who had lived in an entirely different corner of the galaxy, before anyone had traveled amongst the stars, had said it best. John Masefield spoke of the sea, but the sentiment carried through to the vast ocean of space as well.
“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…” was the only reply that I could give to my sister.
She shook her head and laughed, “That old poem? It can’t be that simple.”
My gaze wandered back to the ever-darkening sky once again, “Never said it was simple little sister. But ‘the call of the running tide is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied…’”
I looked back at her and smiled before dropping a kiss on her forehead, “I’ll be back before you know it.”
Sari stood on her toes and threw her arms around me, “Be careful. Love you big brother.”
“Love you too,” I said quietly, hoping that she wouldn’t notice the slight catch in my voice. I had to go, but that didn’t mean that I wouldn’t miss her.
I gave her one final hug before striding off in the direction of my ship. I let my fingers glide across her smooth hull as I ran through the pre-flight checklist. After boarding and strapping myself into the pilot’s seat I spared a moment to look again at the night sky. Once again the stars called to me. Maybe someday that call would grow dim enough for me to settle down on the ground for the long haul… but not today.
In case you have never read Sea Fever:
“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.”
By John Masefield (1878-1967)