That boat

by Sharon Ashton


(After Catullus 4)

That boat you see, tourist in this land of travellers,
claims it once brought clay urns to Pithacusæ,  
to store wine and grain, and sometimes babies, stillborn,
slipped into those cold second wombs by silent husbands.
Then, so it says, it churned Paestum’s mosquito-thick
marshes, ferrying worshippers of Poseidon
along the coast, to build a new town on cliff edges.
From there, it boasts of dancing waves,
deaf to the songs of Sirens’ until, reaching
Surrentum’s limestone cape, it squeezed
its curved timbers between a cleft rock
to spy on nymphs, who slept beneath oak and sweet bay
while Neptune flowed back and forth between their legs. 


But these are old stories. Now a diving-board
for plump brown boys, it drifts in Naples’ harbour,
and under the watch of Vesuvius and armoured police,
wonders if anyone now remembers Castor and his twin.