David Salner

Melville’s Promise

It is my earnest desire to write those sort of books which are said to fail.



He sailed from New York, bracing himself

for the terrors of the Southern Cape,

while a panel of literary men

made a decision on dry land. Their letter,


deft and polite, waited for him in San Francisco.

“We have read your work with much interest. Thank you

for considering us, Best luck in placing it elsewhere.”

And the fog rolled in. He scrapped his plans,


stayed on board, and this great port—

shipyards and fisheries and fragrant Asian trade—

became just a place to turn around.

From that day on, the letter shaped the man.


Once, he’d thrust his face into the wind and salt,

for the sheer hazard of it, braved the rise,

the sudden fall, the furrows of the sea. But now,

even more frightening than the Cape


was the maelstrom inside him, the sea

of failure shrouding his horizon. As a last hope,

he grabbed for planks of heathen wood

and screamed a promise he could surely keep.

David Salner’s poetry has appeared in Threepenny Review, Poetry Daily, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Salmagundi, River Styx, and previous issues of Innisfree Poetry Journal. His books include John Henry’s Partner Speaks, Working Here, and Blue Morning Light, which will appear in 2016 from Pond Road Press.



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