U.S. Navy Battleship

Ship Captain Crew

USS Warrington (1945–1972)


What is a ship on the ways
but twenty-seven hundred tons
of waiting steel, a maze

of empty bunks and unworked guns?
No captain? No resolve.
No crew? No dash, no muscleno means.

But plankowners arrive,
fire the boilers, take in line
shake the ship alive.

More than iron, more than human,
ship  captain  crew bond
and out of three emerges one:

Bessemer-built and -boned,
a man owar that hauls and sails
wherever missions command.


A month out of Newport, monsoon swells,
the storms of Tonkin Gulf.
Rain, fog, the midwatch bells,

andsomewherePratas Reef:
graveyard for ships whose lookouts fail
to see its breaking surf.

Off North Vietnam, gun line patrol,
the still waters erupt
two mines explode beneath her hull.

Engines wrecked, pipes
ruptured, flooding, listing port
the crew reclaims the ship,

pumps and patches, keeps her afloat
and headed East Sou-East
for the tow to Subic and her fate.


Condemned, struck from the List,
sold for parts and scrap. To Taiwan
breaking yards released.

Work of the cutting torches done,
fed to furnaces,
the atoms in her metals find

an afterlife as traces
a small part on a ship perhaps,
a hawse pipe or a windlass.

And what of a crew without its ship?
Sailors grow old, go on
as atomsall things go on, except

for this: The mythic bond
a beast half steel half soulgone
never to return.

John Barr

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