The Figurehead, by Erica Chappuis
She listed in the dock, fractured and peeling. Her ship was due to be broken up in this harbour. They had sailed the world together, trading in foreign lands. The Master’s hand was steady, firm, seasoned. She trusted his every move and every order, through storm and calm, past treacherous reefs and through the shallows. But now the wood was full of rot and anyway, those days were long past.
She had been carved as an Angel, in the traditional manner, and fastened snugly to the bowsprit. Her eyes, lips, hands and her full, naked breasts embodied the soul of her ship, went forth before all else, parted the seas before the ship and protected the crew. She was its spirit, but the ship was her body; its sails her true wings, caressed always by the strong and callused hands of the crew. Although she was beautifully painted, her Master took pride in her as if she were a wife and adorned her whenever possible. On occasion, in some new port, when the trading had been especially profitable, and the Master was well pleased, he would purchase a special, commemorative embellishment for her. In Tahiti he had bought pearls for her neck and had the ship’s carpenter lay them in. After their first exploration of the coastline of Brazil he had had her wings painted in the image of colourful macaw feathers after the astonishing birds they had seen there. And always she was kept in perfect repair, her hands and lovely face always smooth. Never was the sea, or the salt-laden winds, allowed to be harsh to her. And always, the holds were filled with rich goods and the coins, jewels, and beautiful things of the world.
Now she waited, memories of those years flowing over her. She was separated from her ship, destined for a maritime museum. Even in her sorry state she was still of value. She was repaired again – though not as her Master would have done - and set up within sight of the harbour. But her ship - her very Heart, and her true wings, were nothing more than a faded, nearly undecipherable series of entries in a browned and curling Captain’s log, so fragile it could rarely be touched. As she gazed out over the harbour, surrounded by polite museum- goers, in her mind they still flew together over the waves, the Angel and her Ship, with the Master at the helm.
Erica Chappuis is an artist who lives and works on an island between two countries. Her artist’s book illustrating Subcomandante Marcos’ story, The Cave of Desire, is in the collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C., and also in the Museum of Erotic Art in Barcelona, Spain and the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana, USA.
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