...you can oft times find her lying hove-to
in slack jawed seas adrift among
by following daily after the bright songs
of her many finches...
Corecentris, A. I.
Le Bateau de Finches
her broad deck is wood. it visibly stretches about 55' clear from the ramshackle wheelhouse to the last 25' of the prow. all the rest is covered in tangled wire ropes and the cages. the planks are burned smooth by years of the friction of the crew's feet. but no members of the crew are present. these boards, years wet from the surge five days out of ten, are painfully dry. they arch up achingly towards the bowsprit.
the sun is at eleven o'clock. her head faces into the dry tropics. the spice island trade winds died far up wake and now their rank smell is drifting down. no sails are set. yet the masts are rigged. lines throw tangled shadows down on the still deck suggesting an incompetent bo'sun. alternately tense and slack with the slow flexing of the ship. to the listener below, the periodic groans of dangerously taught lines is a faint omnipresence.
the master sits with his back hunched up against one of the cages. it is fairly clear that he is the master. though, his coat is torn and splattered. beard unkempt. about three weeks growth. he chews an unlit cob pipe patiently as he works. pulls apart thistle. throws it into a pile heaping out of a hemp sack. rubs his bleeding hands on his dark pants. jams his hands roughly into the other sack on the deck beside him and pulls out more.
there is a trail of organic waste leading to the man on the deck. it comes up deck from the stove-in forehatch. the deck is splintered around the edge. the shards of broken crates lie on all sides. knots of hay stick in the cracked wood. A knotted rope hangs down into the dark opening. the end of the rope is tied to the starboard scuppers. it runs along the bleached deck past several dark patches of wood with little worm holes that depict stray bolts and errant brass fixtures.
the man stands up slowly. his back, his knees and neck ache. he is aging algebraically. wipes his forehead. he is hot. Stares up at the masts with a hand over his eyes. scowls at the finches arrayed along strands of the cats cradle high above the deck. occasionally one of these finches flutters into the air inconsequentially. flutters, and settles elsewhere. there are thousands. many, many thousands. longtailed finches. the red faced parrot finch. black throat. Madagascar weaver. the red cheeked cordon bleu finch. cut throat finches. their waxy guano drips down the stretched lines like hot resin. their murmurs soften the endless slap of the swells. the wheelhouse is plastered in the down of their bright wing feathers.
the man leans slowly down. his reef knife drops from his jacket into a pool of his waste. steadies himself against the lower cages. grabs at the full sack of broken thistle. misses. corrects. tries again. lifts the hemp bag like it is stuffed with lead. staggers back. pulls himself to rights as caged finches peck viciously at his bleeding fingers. slowly he climbs up and over the clamoring cages. wavers, stops, balances. continues. after almost an hour he achieves the top of the highest cage far above the deck. it is a bent brass dome. about five feet in diameter. dozens of birds scream from inside. against the odds, he slowly stands, holding tight to a stay and swinging feebly at the restless finches. turns squarely forwards. eyes the horizon. steadies. lifts up the sack. high. dumps the torn thistle into the windless air. it floats out and down across the bow. across the sea lying before the ship.
immediately a great clatter goes up from the cages. the air is darkened with bodies. the noise is deafening. flashing wings. the massive pile of cages strains against the wire. shakes violently. the breathless air quickly becomes a fevered storm of hungry protest. feathers fall thick with the thistle. tiny white flecks appear on the swells below the figurehead. the ropes throb and groan as the ship suddenly surges forward. brass bars creak. a thousand, thousand half starved beaks beat the bars in time to the sudden simoom. the old man leans into the rising head wind. grips the stays with both hands as the shredded hemp sack is whipped down to the deck. he stares grimly into the lurching middle distance with a fierce solemnity...