That They Go Down to the Sea in Ships

09“As I was searching through our family’s Samsonite suitcase full of photographs, I came across a small black and white print, no larger than a baseball card, with two red lipstick prints smeared across the back. Besides these marks made by some once-supple lips, there were no names, dates or messages inscribed. I flipped the picture over to find the soft, dark eyes of a sailor staring back at me. He had full lips curved in a slight smile to rival La Gioconda, a small, handsome nose, and a neck as thick as a young oak. His hair glistened with pomade, as black and shiny as our Steinway, and at his collar, above his neckerchief, you could see a bit of his dark chest hair. His skin was smooth and unblemished; he looked no older than 19. The picture was battered, and the edges worn soft from handling. The photograph must have been taken in the 1940’s or early 1950’s, given the paper’s amber hue and his coiffure.

I was bewitched, caught in the snare of his eyes staring through 50 years. Who was this handsome sailor? I asked everyone in the house if they recognized him. Could he be a relative? Could I have met the old, stooped correlative of this shining youth at some family reunion? It was unlikely that he was a blood relative, given his Italianate looks; perhaps he was some relative’s husband. No one recognized him. There were no other pictures of him in the suitcase, no other gelatin prints testifying to the beauty of this face in our family’s baggage of fading faces and forgotten times. Who was he? Someone’s sweetheart, loved and lost or loved and forgotten? How had he ended up here?


“Our Father who art in Washington
Please dear father let me stay,
Do not drive me now away
Wipe away my scalding tears
And let me stay for Thirty Years…”

That They Go Down to the Sea in Ships

by Evan Izer

Images © 2002 Evan Izer

[Via MeFi]

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