off our port beam

a sister destroyer

plunges into an oncoming wave

a dense wall of white water and spray

is thrown up across her decks

her bow rises high

exposing her keel

as she does the tin can rock and roll

through the heavy Pacific swells

we came alongside the carrier

at twelve steady knots

ready to take on fuel

exchange mail and movies

i looked up from my station aft

at the underside of the flight deck

as sailors high above

peered down at me

anchored in the bay

the million lights of Hong Kong and Kowloon

riot on either side

sampans and strangely built small craft

scud by in the darkness

surrounded by billions of people

i will never know or understand

the quiet night watch rolls on

Gunners Mate Kern

is tattooed from waist to neck

buttoned up in uniform

none are visible

he retains a blank area of skin on his chest

for a clipper ship when next we get to Japan

one day at sea we fire the five-inch guns

the forward gun mount suddenly falls silent

we wait while i watch from my perch high above

after the required interval

the gun mount door opens

Kern steps out onto the rolling and pitching deck

wearing thick insulated gauntlets

cradling a hot seventy eight pound high explosive projectile

calmly walks to the port side

and dumps his armload of death into the sea

then strolls back to the gun mount

climbs inside and closes the door

far up the river in a secret secure place

the long black boats nestle

side by side

against their gray mother

it is dark, quiet and raining topside

while onboard inside the boats

the activities never stop

we crawl over and around the missiles in their tubes

checking, measuring, adjusting

we test the computers and launch equipment

that lie forward in a small compartment

where we spend hours

sometimes days

chasing system gremlins

modifying and checking

double checking

verifying all is well and true

sleeping sometimes on foul weather jackets

piled into a corner

working without stop

until the boat and her nuclear nightmare cargo

are ready to disappear under the oceans and seas

the big stick no one wants to use

Copyright Michael Douglas Scott