Cold Stone Below–Wendy Joseph launches our new contest.

Cold Stone Below

by Wendy Joseph


On the APL container ship President Jackson, in the North Atlantic Ocean

42°05.03’ N.

34°41.01’ W.

Course: 277°

Speed: 20 kt.

Temp.: 64°

Wind: 20 kt., over the starboard bow


One can get cut off from things out here, but now that is by choice, not necessity. Before GPS and e-mail, before satellite phones, before radio and radar, a ship’s only communication with land was with letters sent via any homeward bound ship they met, which could take months to arrive. And not all ships made it back. Sometimes you literally sailed away forever, with no word of what happened. Now you can actually keep your life going ashore, pay bills, keep in touch with family and friends, etc. But it’s not the same as being there. Will be home soon.

Went out on the starboard bridge wing. Sunny and excellent, salt air in the breeze, bright water in the sun astern. But even so, the ocean is always trying to kill you, and the waters are cold out here. I looked over the bridge wing and said, “Not this time,” to the North Atlantic. “Not this time.”

Cold Stone Below


Off shore, granite cliffs, and there is

Cold stone below

Curl of bacon crisp

Pancake flipper swipes

Off to paint the deck this morn

A thousand meters down

Is cold water, cold stone,

Cold stone below


Celebrate summer, celebrate sun

Dine outside in salt and fresh

But do not celebrate cold stone,

Cold stone below


Tie up safe and home

No more granite cliffs

And raise a glass to sailors

But do not think too much

Of the stillness down

In cold water, cold stone,

Cold stone below

(White caps appear on those icy waves, tempting you to dive in beneath the cold stone surface, and swallow your fate)

14 thoughts on “Cold Stone Below–Wendy Joseph launches our new contest.

  1. Michael Stang says:

    Oh you Newt. You Mermaid-brain washing our landlubber lives with tempestuous N’s and W’s. Granite cliffs, sunny decks and the demon waiting below. Love the prose to poetry, love the salt air and the crusty clothes (my imagination). Inspired by the dark hand under us all. Safe haven is always up for grabs.
    Your writing continues to excite me.

    • Wendy Joseph says:

      Thank you, Michael. Among those cold stones off of Ireland are numerous sea mounts and other underwater formations named after places in Middle Earth. Seems the British Hydrographic Survey was charting those waters in the 1970’s, when Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings popularity was on the rise, and there were definitely some Tolkien fans among the ocean scientists.

      • Michael Stang says:

        As an add-on I originally had you in the Black Sea, north of Turkey but figured it as a mistake. The West coast of Ireland (if that is close to correct) particularly to the North at Galway, is where my heart rumbles with the explanation of the human race. Hey, we got to start somewhere. Myth, mystic, esoteric storytelling, heroes and villains, oh yes! I so do revel in yours.

  2. Kenneth Weene says:

    A quick wave to the seaborne. I can’t help but exclaim at the lonely sadness of this piece; having never been a seafarer, I cannot imagine feeling so isolated from the world even while still in communication with it. An interesting juxtaposition

  3. Tiffany V says:

    I have always had a deep respect for the seafarer. I can not do it. But your brief paragraph took me with you, and I felt again the respect for the waters, so much greater than I. Your appreciation for the timelessness of the water now married to the convenience of modern technology is written sweetly – not to light, not to heavy. Kenneth spoke of this piece’s “lonely sadness”, and I agree, but there is a profound love in it as well, almost a holy respect for the “cold stone below”.

    Your write of your thoughts, and paint a picture of poetry that speaks a close link with the trophy for this piece. Nicely done.

    And then Thorn put that daggone Cold Stone photo up, and my head started to hurt for the sweet tooth.

  4. Jesse Cramer says:

    This is a very interesting reflection on life at sea. You speak of old truths without being too cliche, and you speak of modern influences without being hammy. This is a very elegant piece.

    One thing I would suggest (in fact I do suggest it, to most poets I encounter). Please punctuate. Even if all you do is put a period at the end of every stanza. Being purposeful with punctuation empowers your work.

    I also found the combination of prose and poetry to be an interesting and profound metaphor working to strengthen the duality of your message. When you talk about home, you do it in prose–structured and traditional. But when you talk about the sea, you break free of those restraints.

    Nice work.

  5. Stef says:

    So many people romanticize the ocean (myself included; how can I not when I’m hypnotized by the foamy waves?) but you have a much deeper, intimate, yet real connection with the waters. Brilliant, as usual Wendy

  6. Parisianne Modert says:

    Sometimes I think in music which this piece set sail in my mind as Jimmy Buffet’s “Changes In Lattitudes, Changes In Attitude”. “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”

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