Capt. Love's Last Command (poem)

by Mathew Paust

I stifle a curse when I hear the beep beep beep.

Another traffic jamming electric cart.

I'll soon be upon the damned thing

in my usual hurry

to get the shopping done

and get the hell


Someone less able than me,

self-destructive I suppose

in my least charitable way.

Someone stuffing greasy chips

into his or her face,

stuffing his or her beeping conveyance

with ever more bags of cheap deadly calories,

or shooting the shit

with another witless old fart,

both oblivious to me

as they block the aisle



I round the corner and there he is.

Yes, a he,

a gaunt, tall ancient he.

Enormous bearded head,

white hair on top

and under chin,

milky eyes rolled inward,

parchment lips agape.

The head is erect,

but dead.


The old man is dead,

body propped in its cart

like the dead El Cid

strapped on his horse by Jimena

to save Valencia,

and yet...


Somehow the cart moves,

small, herky jerky moves,

forward and back,

and around,

this way and that,

beep beep beep,

as if its dead commander

still tries to drive.


I walk carefully around

this curious grotesque

to find the spices

and then the beans.

A couple more aisles

I must traverse

before I can leave

this crowded, cursed place.


Several more times

I meet the dead shopper.

Is he following me

or what the hell?

Each time we pass

I study him harder,

with quick glances

to catch a vital sign.


I wonder why he's alone.

If he's dead, how are the purchases

filling his cart?

A respect for him sprouts in my head.

There's no fear in his face,

nor defeat in his frame.

He's not dead but he's close

and it frightens him not.


He's an old sea captain I think,

a mariner once,

adventurous man,

who thrived on the challenge,

the danger of imminent

untimely death.


He's Eric the Red

returned from the dead.

He's Ahab and Blackbeard,

Morgan and Kidd,

the spirits of skippers

who handled the helm,

whose lives became legend

inspiring us still.


And that's when I see her,

as I piece it together,

this towering figure

nearing death in his cart,

refusing surrender

despite all the odds

overwhelming his body,

every breath that he takes.


She stands there behind him,

far enough back so I cannot be sure

she is with him at all.

She looks lost,

nearly helpless,

bent and frail thin.

I study her face,

but like his it is closed

to strangers it seems.

She is looking at something

only she seems to see.


I walk on past her,

wondering anew,

and that's when I hear it:

a murmuring sound.

It is her or him or both in tune.

I turn to look and sure enough,

she's moved closer to him leaning in,

and I wonder if I can tell by the voice

or the voices if two,

what clue I can take from the tones I might hear.

Does she know this old warrior,

does he know her, too?

Would I hear impatience or grumble or scorn?

Would they speak at all, would their faces reveal?


I see the cart move.

It turns toward the woman

and the old captain's spirit

I can see has joined hers.

There's movement, animation

in that bearded large face.

Her body is bobbing a little with life,

and I hear it then, the sound unexpected.


It is thin, it is fragile, but it holds its own.

It shoos away dread, frustration and worse.

Their doom imminent, the bodies for sure,

but their spirits are stronger than ever, I know

when I hear it,

her giggle.