THE LAY OF THE LAST SIGNALMAN
On a thickly-wooded sponson, where the last projector stands;
The museum pair of hand-flags hanging idly in my hands,
With my jargon half-forgotten, of my stock and trade bereft,
I wonder what’s ahead of me…the only bunting left.
The relics of my ancient craft have vanished one by one,
The cruiser arc, the Morse flag, and maneuvering lights have gone,
And I hear they’d be useless in the final global war,
As the hello, the fog horn, and the masthead semaphore.
The mast is sprouting gadgets like a nightmare Christmas tree,
There are whips and studs and waveguides, where my halyards used to be,
And I couldn’t hoist a tack line through that lunatic array,
For at every height and angle, there’s a dipole in the way.
The alert and hawk-eyed signalman is rendered obsolete,
By the electrically operated optics of the fleet,
And the leaping barracuda, or the charging submarine,
Can be sighted as a blob, upon a fluorescent screen.
To delete the human error, to erase a noble breed
We rely upon a relay, and we pin our faith to the creed,
So we press a button, make a switch, and spin a little wheel
And it is cent-per-cent efficient when we’re on an even keel.
But again I may be needed, for the time will surely come,
When we have to talk in silence, and the modern stuff is dumb,
When the signal lantern’s flashing, or the flags are flying free…
It was good enough for Nelson, and it’s good enough for me.
Arms and Lights and Flags
By: Garland Davis
My grandfather could talk with his arms and lights and flags.
I asked him why.
He said it was the sailor’s way through time.
I begged him to teach me how.
I worked so hard at school to learn.
And the letters and words finally came.
Now I too can talk with my arms.
It makes him laugh, easy in himself.
That is what grandsons do.
It would be many years before I found his maps and log books.
Mildewed and stained. Strange names and places.
Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa.
The final log entry, “War over; Surrender, Tokyo bay; Going home.”
I would go to the Navy, as my grandfather did,
I would talk with my arms and lights and flags.
I would be as my grandfather, visit strange places with strange names.
Electronic waves have made the ability to talk with one’s arms obsolete.
Now I talk with the radio and plot courses and names on an electric map.
There is no longer the need to talk with arms and lights and flags.
I imagine my grandfather’s spirit standing alone on the signal bridge.
Semaphore flags clutched in his hand.
Tears slowly running from his eyes.