This week’s poem is based on “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa,” a famous woodblock print by the Japanese artist Hokusai completed in 1830. It is reprinted above.

The fancy word for a poem based on a piece of art is ekphrastic. The best ekphrastic poems leap off from the work of art – they simultaneously exist separately and add new dimensions to the piece. Here, the poet puts herself in the boat with the artist and imagines what it’s like to be doomed or, at least, to watch a group of people who are doomed.

Linda Aldrich lives in Portland. Her most recent book is “March and Mad Women” (WordTech Communications, 2016).

Please note that Deep Water is accepting submissions during September and October; there is a link to more information below.

In the Well of a Wave Off Kanagawa

By Linda Aldrich

In the same boat with Hokusai,

I watch other boats, slender

arcs of yellow moon, struggle

in the dark water, ride the back

of a wet dragon that roils and rises

mightily over them, all froth and

disruption, a tower about to collapse.

This is the day they will die. This

the moment before it happens, before

they jump through small windows

of time. They are facing away, pulling

hard on the oars, hoping to slide up

one side, down the other, as though

theirs is just any row of eyes going

someplace, their oblivious heads

lined up, thinking of those they left

on shore? But look, they’re already

dead and don’t know it. Hokusai

has filled their sockets with black

ink, their mouths fall open.

He looks past them to Mt. Fuji,

and the mountain looks back at him,

cloaked in white, impassive, unmoved,

like a line of rope thrown to us.

Our boat steadies, holds taut.

If Hokusai decides to jump,

I will take his hand.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2015 Linda Aldrich. It appeared in the Union of Maine Visual Artists Journal, spring 2015, and appears here by permission of the author. Please note that the column is currently accepting submissions. For information, see mainewriters.org/programs/deep-water.

filed under: