Fine Print

— Barbara Saxton

Under cover of midnight, like a satay strip dipping
through slick peanut sauce, the Asian Joy slid
into Singapore Strait. Every light on the shore twinkled promise
of clean sheets, long hot showers, and porcelain cups
of strong English tea.

After half a fortnight in a cramped cargo hold,
rocked to uneasy sleep by sea swells and snores
of lau ren on nearby canvas cots, I yearned for dawn light
more audacious than rays that managed to sneak
through cracks in the floor above deck; no more waiting in line
for Cook’s foul-smelling jook, sparsely sprinkled
with dry, rancid shrimp.

But buoyant thoughts sank when a rude
British sailor in neatly-creased shorts and blinding white
socks flung a flimsy rope ladder down the side of our ship.
Sneering Welcome to Singapore, he exhorted us
third class denizens to descend undulating wet rungs,
then leap over three feet of churning black sea to bumboats
bobbing wildly in the waves far below.

Catapult to old age, or share the weird fate of girl ghosts
in the Japanese movie watched evenings before? Robes a-flutter,
black eyebrows arched high on their creamy broad foreheads,
they quickly dispersed in South China Sea mist
when a sudden gust blew our deck screen overboard.

The distance of years
makes it harder than ever to read the fine print
on life’s one-way tickets.

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