The Ship of Fools

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: August 27, 2018

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Submitted: August 27, 2018



I am a Marine combat veteran with 3 tours in Iraq, two of which I was a Mortuary Affairs Marine. My job was to recover the fallen off of the battlefields and send them home. This poem is about running from my paralyzing fear of death in country as well as at home. It is an anti-war poem saying that we were the ones riding “The Shipof Fools” into Hell. I hope that you enjoy it.

Together we ride this ship into Hell,

with pools of fire lapping in our wake.

We listen as the bellman tolls,

Forward on into the brimstone lake.


Two coins of gold, we had paid the price,

Our sins never redeemed.

Drive on, drive on, through the gates of Hell,

Drive on good ferryman, full steam.


The sky no more in this fiery cave,

The coins have lost their shine.

We travel on this Ship of Fools,

Tonight in Hell we dine.


The sulfur hot,

The bellows blast, a blistered wind may rise.

We sip a wine from empty cups,

From empty dish we dine.


“Retreat retreat good Ferryman,

 into these pits no more!”

His hollow gaze, our unaltered fate,

We ride this ship towards shore.


Dark angels sing a song of dread,

From high aloft in peaks.

A thousand souls drag iron chains,

To demon drums they beat.


"We plead, we beg, O’ ferryman,

Please turn this ship around.

Two more coins of gold we give,

To never reach that ground.”


“Listen here O’ gentlemen,

 Of lost souls we weep.

Revolt! Rebel! Mutiny!

Of starry skies we seek.”


“Grab my friends your empty cups,

Your plates and knives of steel.

To strike against the ferryman’s head,

To take command his wheel.”


“Strike once strike twice, with heavy hand,

Our fates salvation may lie.

Charge on my friends, no cowardice!

Towards the ferryman’s deck we climb!”


An empty sound, from empty cup, of empty head,

A strike!

The ferryman’s bones fell into dust,

His wooden wheel our prize!


“Listen here O’ gentlemen, 

This Ship of Fools is mine!

Pour on! Pour on! Let us celebrate!

Bring out the ferryman’s wine.”


“Fill our cups to the very brim,

My friends and crew alike!  

I toast to you, and you, and you,

Another round of wine!”


“Sing with me O’ gentlemen,

A melodious song of victory!

Place your faith into me.

I will pilot this vessel after my wine.”


Upon drunken gaze the crew asleep,

Their trust in me defined.

I alone pilot this Ship of Fools,

With weary drunken eyes.


A heavy crash, the timbers split, the riggings fell aloof.

The mast gave way,

The brimstone spray.

The aptly named “Ship of Fools” was proof!


Through shadows high, then floated down, 

Then rested upon our heads.

A delicate ash by Vulcan way,

Good cheer fades to somberness.


Hell borne lords of rigid skin,

 Let slip their mongrel hounds.

Dark gloom gave way to flaming torch,

Thundering steps shook the ground.


A black tide swell of demon horde,

Awash over the fiery fields of stone.

Filling the shore with torchlight,

They were here to claim our souls.


"Oh listen here my sweet gentlemen,

Your trust I had failed.

Run, escape, far from here,

Flee the clutch of Hell."


With iron chains the demons came,

Cracking whips of nine.

With nothing but empty cups and dish, 

Our liberty declined.


Off starboard side souls did dive,

Into waters oh so deep. 

A fruitless run from other ones,

The vile beasts had us beat.


My shame had driven me from that deck,

 Of the ferryman’s demise.

Heavy rotten ropes I hung,

Of fallen riggings and mast disguise.


The shrieks and shrills of my gentlemen,

my friends, my fellows, my crew.

With whips of nine, they marched in time,

The beating drums resumed.


Ship manifest, blew from the deck,

  Into waters it fell below.

Mongrel hounds were called away,

Back into the darkness they did go.


In nervous breath afraid to say,

A whimper or a peep.

Dark angels who sit high aloft,

would hear me in their peaks.


Hot bellows blast of sulfur air,

Blew upon this Ship of Fools.

A smoke did rise, and to my surprise,

The ship slowly became anew.


Of timbers cracked and splintered mast,  

the ropes swung with tattered sail.

A breath of wind, the wreck rose again,

To heights this ship assailed!


Shattered planks began to groan, 

Twisted iron began to weep.

The mast once again found rigid plumb,

A place among tattered sails, a hidden seat!


A grand ball of masquerade,

Shadows waltzed with the flickers of light.

Happily they danced across the decks,

Across the sails they hid me from sight.


“Avast I say!” With muttered words, 

my eyes in disbelief.

Black shadows formed into a silhouette,

then let loose a terrible shriek.


A heavy step, of heavy boot,

In rolling mist he came onboard.

The ferryman took command his wheel!

The ship was cast from shore.


Gods and men they bow to him,

His name is Lord Death.

Here onboard this Ship of Fools,

He is known as the Ferryman.


From towering heights, my perch did sway,

 I watched him turn this ship around.

The dinging bells, a wind from Hell,

Blew us outward bound!


The brimstone lake began to quake,

And shudder with release.

 Black waters churn across the bow,

The speed of knots increased.


A sulfur smell, the flames of Hell,

Faded off into the night.

The wisp of clouds and starry skies,

Filled my soul with delight!


A gentle breeze blew from the East,

then settled into the sails.

The moon on high, in the night,

gleamed a brilliant pale!


 In absent gaze he stood in wait,

 command of course and wheel.

The drift of waves, I slipped away, 

Into slumber realms reveal.




Peck peck.

Peck peck peck!"


Blinding light of mid-day sun,

 Had delivered me a new friend.

Curious looks from an albatross,

From deep sleep I awakened.


My new friend took flight into the sky,

Of which was O’ so blue.

The water swell were not of Hell,

It was a lovely hue.


Two distant ships with riggings masts,

Circled in each other’s  approach.

A frenzied scene of battle lines,

 Shot erupted into smoke.


The folly of men had summoned the ferryman,

And death was their prize.

A thunder cracked and storm clouds did climb.

Blood red turned the skies.


A fiery clash of sabers crossed, 

The agony and the screams.

Murder twined with crippling smoke.

Blue waters turns to demon scene.


Black sails were full in tempest gale,

We rode upon the tide.

Two ships of war sank bubbling,

With all hands trapped inside.

It is hard to say, on that somber day

That the ferryman did smile.

With his relentless task of harvesting souls,

Dispersed across many a nautical mile.


Casting nets of hooks and barbs,

He did drag behind.

Gaffing souls into his ship,

Like squirming fish they heaved and writhed.


I wish I could pray to heaven above,

to save me from this mess.

But I was once condemned to dwell in Hell,

but I discovered an egress.




With so much death, blue had turned into red, 

his notice went to the sea.

This was my chance to escape his clutch,

And set my eternal soul free.


Upon release of his casted net,

I quietly slipped off the other side.

Into the abyss I swam I swam.

Into the deep I will hide.




The wake did pass, I carefully,

 ascended my way to the top.

Among debris,I gleefully,

Reveled in the thought.


My salvation lies of luck and tide,

To carry me far from here.

My arms grow weak, onto hope I cling,

That the ferryman’s ship disappears.


My friend came back, the albatross, 

then circled overhead.

He perched himself on a floating wreck,

Carved a maidens head.



Peck peck.

Peck peck peck!"


Tap once, tap twice, he looked at me.

A curious gaze I returned.

He tapped once more upon the maidens head,

To ensure that I had learned.


This wooden wreck bore a name,

Too tragic for her crew.

“Hopes Salvation” pointed her hand,

In direction the albatross motioned to.




To the West, towards the setting sun,

He took off into flight.

He landed on an empty boat,

That was hidden from my sight.


I swam, I swam and swam some more

Into the back I had climbed.

The boat drifted upon red waters swell,

Pulled out upon the ocean tide.




I watch the souls of gentlemen,

Who perished in this fight.

Climb onboard the “Ship of Fools”,

To serve the Ferryman’s delight. 


Here’s to you “Ship of Fools”,

I never want to see again.

Nor crack of flame, nor beating drums

Just gentle seas and the company of my winged friend.




The night did come, so did starry sky,

The heavens did reveal.

A North wind came and left me shivering.

A state of desperate deal.


The rise and fall of tumbling,

Across the mighty waves.

I watch the sun come up for far too long,

And sink down for too many days.





Peck peck,

Peck peck peck!"


"Ahoy I say! Ahoy I say!

You there in that tiny boat! 

Are ye live or are ye dead?

Or too diseased to keep afloat?”





Who is this? My thoughts did lie?

Have I gone crazy in this sun?

Floating along for too many days,

With the company of only one?


Has my thirst really made me mad?

The furthest reaches of my mind revealed?

Have the voices inside my head gain power,

and resound beyond my keel?




Oh no I thought, the Ferryman’s plot!

Altered his course, his Ship of Fools!

To search for me in shallow tide,

and deep waters O’ so blue.


I reached out to my friend the albatross,

To help me to decide.

Upon musket fire and leaden shot,

He took off into the sky.




This awful wretched thirst had made me too weak,

 to even say a word.

My reach was not for help for the strangers here.

My reach was for the bird.


“Help him onboard!” I heard him say,

As they lifted me onto their ship. 

“For certain I know this boat from our fleet,

But this man is not from it!”




“From enemy ranks, he must be.

A fellow sailor I do not care.

‘Hopes Salvation’ was our sister ship,

Our retribution he must bear!”


 “What is your name? What is your rank? 

What was your position on your last ship?”

He buried his pistol deep into my side,

 pulled the hammer back till it clicked.




I looked him square and warned the man,

 My last ship I cannot reveal.

I have just left that place, and he would give chase,

A terrible evil commands its wheel.


He slapped me once, he slapped me twice

“I demand you tell me now!”

They shackled me to an unbearable weight,

Then led me to the bow.




“Who commands your last ship?

Reveal to me his name!

Or you’ll sink in waters deep below,

You cannot win this game!”


Cheers of crew filled the air,

Rage and revenge filled their eyes.

A rattle of chain, my nerves gave way,

I revealed to them my plight. 





Through parched throat, I hoarse and choked;

I wanted not to evoke his name.

I am a man who once seen Hell,

And never want to see that place again.


“Heaven does not want my soul,

And Hell does not know I’m gone.

You have pressed me to reveal the name of my last ship,

Now Death comes for us all.”




“Her sails are black as murderous night, 

She is driven by the wails of the desperate mourn.  

Gallows ropes bind her riggings mast,

That had once stretched the necks of the forlorn.”


"Her decks, they bear, the bloody scars,

Of a thousand executioners rusty tools.

She is the cargo ship bound for Hell,

Her name is 'The Ship of Fools'!"



A thunder cracked, the sky turned black.

The waters churned and boiled.

Inside a swirling mist of putrid fog,

The ghostly ship formed and took its mortal coil.


"Sail ho! Sail ho!" A man screamed from post,

“There about upon our starboard side!

Death’s black ship has set its course,

To overtake our nautical stride!”





“I beg you sir to pilot this ship,

And ride fast ahead Deaths tempest wind.

The Ferryman is here to pack his ship full with souls,

And for us, to never see home again!”


White sails came down and filled with wind,

The deck came alive upon command.

This ship of war was of high rehearse,

To thwart the Ferryman’s plans!




“Alright my boys, turn this ship about!

With shot of chain, we load our guns!

 Aim them high into the Devil’s masts,

Upon my order, FIRE ONE!!!”


A broadside blast of starboard guns,

Had shattered the silence of gentle sea.

Searing iron tore into the Ship of Fools,

And left her sails a tattered debris.




Not a flinch, nor a cringe, 

not a baulk or nor even a quail.

The ferryman stood motionless,

awaiting to summon the fury of Hell! 


Dark clouds spun high above our ship,

Flashes of lightning illuminated the heights.

 Brimstone fire danced upon the waves,

the salted sea had been set on fire.




A sulfur gale, filled our sails,

The sun was choked by crimson skies.

Countless souls reached out of watery graves,

And then grasped at our vessel’s sides! 


The deafening howls of waterlogged wraiths,

Shot horror into our hearts.

The bounty blue turned into a sea of suffering,

Of millions forsaken souls depart.




“You are cursed and so are we,

Our fates are now forever twined!

Unshackle this soul who outsmarts Death!

Welcome onboard the ‘Pious Winds Divine’!”


The Ship of Fools was set ablaze.

  Hot embers whipped off into the horrible storm.

Like a phoenix rising from its grave,

The craft shed its flame then was restored.  




A Southern wind brought a scalding rain,

that fizzled and steamed upon our ship.

Our skin did sting, our lives did cling,

upon bearing the lash of the Devils whip.


The oceans blue turned into black,

 then hungrily moaned for bloody red.

The crashing waves made of angry souls,

 clawed at our sailors then dragged them in!




To our rear, not so distance way,

The black sails were in pursuit.

The very same crew that once manned our ship,

Was now manning the Ship of Fools!


Closer and closer and closer he came,

We know in the end that Death we cannot outrun.

But for as long as we can, we will stick to the plan,

We will push on till this day is won.




“Hard to port, and charge your guns,

Another broad of chains we shoot!

Bear my friends this vicious storm,

Into his mast, FIRE TWO!!” 


A turn of the “Pious Winds Divine”,

Rusted chains had filled the air.

Smoke arose from the waterline,

Holes once again filled the Ferryman’s sail.




Cinder sparks spun then glowed,

  Like rivers of fire into the heights they climb.

The holes just formed from our blast had mended,

 then faded off into the sullen skies.


Black churning sea and sky so red,

The horizon was no more.

Stinging rain receded into the wicked night,

A blizzard of ash formed a blinding storm.




Gray was the mast, gray was the decks,

Gray was the color of men.

Gray was the color of the mud,

That choked our lungs upon breathing in.


I clung to the ropes that bound this ship,

And looked back upon this maddening sea.

I tried so hard to have a second chance,

But the Kingdom of Hell never stopped seeking for me.





Grapple hooks bit hard into our wooden ship,

Our freedom run was failed.

Ghastly souls tugged and dragged us close,

The Ferryman’s plans did prevail!


“Hold fast my boys!” I heard him say,

“Be prepared to defend yourselves!”

With the slam of ships, all light was extinguished,

But only a flicker of lantern by the helm.


 The breaths of men were deepened,

By fear of Death who lurked in the dark.

We huddled around our lonely light,

And awaited our Earthy depart. 



A heavy sound, of heavy boot,

 In rolling mists he came onboard.

A boney hand reached around my neck,

Then pulled me into the dark.


A lightning flashed, my hopes were dashed,

I knew that this was the end.

His gaffe raised high, towards the swirling sky,

I heard the captain frantically pleading.





“Come my friends, come my friends,

Let us pray and bow our heads.

Upon this day Death will win this fight,

But heavenwards our souls we send.”


The captain of the “Pious Winds Divine”,

Was certain we had lost this day.

I agreed and I had nothing more to lose,

I clasped my hands and began to pray.




My mad rush of heartbeats slowed in time,

My lungs slackened its demand for air.

I came to peace within myself,

I was unafraid to pay the Ferryman’s fare.


“Heaven please forgive me,

For all of the foolish deeds I have done.

I know that the Ferryman is here to drag me to Hell,

And Death I cannot outrun.”




"I will grit my teeth, I will close my eyes,

I will brace myself for his strike.

I will bow my head, my knees will stay bent,

I will clasp my hands tight."


"I will not surrender to my fears.

I must fight this demon who gives chase.

I will run, no more, no more I say!

 Right now, I will find the courage to change."




"I have the strength within myself, to stand up

Against the rough sea, dark clouds and stinging rain.

From this point this demon has no more power over me.

I will turn my back to all of this pain!"


A turn of wind and shatter of clouds,

The crashing waves had a sudden stop.

Golden shafts of glorious light,

Brought us warmth and pierced the dark.





The Ferryman stood in the blinding light,

His tattered cloak curled and bent upon the breeze.

With a shriek he withered into dust,

 Then he blew upon the gentle sea.


The Ship of Fools had receded away,

 into the morning sun.

Calm was the sea, gentle was the breeze,

 the Ferryman’s time was done.




No more Death, No more ghastly ash,

No more Ship of Fools.

No more outsmarting Hell wind send,

No more fiery brimstone pools!


No more lords of rigid skin, 

No more mongrel hounds.

No more iron chains cast from man,

No more crashing timbers sounds.



No more lost souls reaching from the deep,

No more nets of hooks and barbs.

No more blue hues turned to red,

No more skies of absent stars.


No more lost in search of escape,

No more drifting about on oceans tide.

No more blackened tempest gales,

No more Ferryman’s wine!




No more desperate run from Death,

No more "from Hell I hide".

No more believing I was unforgiven,

I know heavenward my soul will reside!


A circled flight, a flap of wings,

  perched upon our bow was my feathered friend.

He tapped hard once, he tapped hard twice,

He motioned to blue ocean send.




The sails of the “Pious Winds Divine”,

Was set full in sweet gentle wind.

We set our course towards the emerging sun,

For certain that I will never see the “Ship of Fools” ever again. 





The End




© Copyright 2020 L. Christian Bussler. All rights reserved.

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