The Star sailed on…
…like a giant manatee surfacing for breath, carving its icy path
on a course of 30 degrees, north, north west.

Pointy-nosed, flat-bottomed. 150,000 tons of steel, crude and cargo
in the middle of the Northern Passage, unstoppable
two weeks out of the sepulchral city.

Mykola Los stared through the cold darkness
barely making out the rise and fall of the bow light
riding the gentle swell.

He smiled as he thought of Mei, her pride in him,
born and bred in the Shanghai slums, now raising his own family
in a cement house in the new suburb of Song Jiang.

He’d done well to become the first Captain of the Star
The company had sent him to the yard in Korea to help build her.
She was his ship, the largest in the world.

The Star sailed on…
… hardly shuddering as the massive, sharp-steeled bow pierced its way
through three-foot thick ice scattering ton-weight shards like flotsam.

His cargo, entrusted to him for safe delivery:
one hundred and fifty containers, four miles of them when laid end to end,
bound for Hamburg, Rotterdam and Felixtowe.

Huge ports competing for his custom
Each had turned two berths to one
to house his great leviathan.

There is no choice, Mykylos thought, but to work day and night
You get dizzy and your eyes hurt – but there is no choice.
Three quarters of the world’s toys are made in China

He wondered about the men and women who made them
the long hours, low wages and dangerous workplaces.
Even in enlightened times those who protested went to prison

The Star sailed on…
… at a steady twenty-two knots, halfway through her first voyage to the North Pole.

Rich western buyers blamed it on the Chinese factory owners
But, at home, they said increasing competition was the cause.
Who to believe? Anyway, what could he do to change things, a mere messenger?

The Captain checked his navigation equipment
They had told him strange things happened at the Pole
Two days less than through the Suez; he wondered was it worth it?

Twelve months ago, on her maiden voyage
the Star had been hi-jacked in the Arabian Sea
Somalians had swarmed the ship with rocket-powered grenades.

All he had were fire hoses and pocket-knives
He had immediately surrendered to protect his crew.
Still, he’d lost two men that night.

The Star sailed on…
…crushing against the protests of the icy sea.

There would have been more killing had not he persuaded the company
to drop a million dollars by parachute from a small aircraft, shrink-wrapped to a brick
But his guilt at the deaths of the Russian and the Scot still haunted his sleep.

But for this, Mykalos doubted whether the company
would have bothered with the Northern Sea Route
Although, of course, that’s not what they had told him

He knew the destiny of his cargo and its purpose
All the toys and decorations for the whole of Northern Europe
to celebrate the coming Christmas were aboard the Star.

Last December, he had taken little Ching-Lan to a superstore in central Shanghai
to see the gift-bearing Dun Che Lao Ren with his jaunty coloured outfit
surrounded by his pretty, giggling sisters.

The Star sailed on…
…. relentlessly towards the North Pole.

He had even bought a small tree which Mei had strung with coloured lights
Mykalos wondered how it had all started, this western celebration
But, like many these days, enjoyed the fun in the weeks preceding the New Year

Out on the freezing deck below, Jack Strong glanced up at the dimly lit bridge
The only remaining Englishman amongst the Star’s meagre crew of twenty,
he looked forward to docking in two weeks time not far from home.

He had been lonely since Scottie had died when the pirates attacked the Star
Jack could not forgive Mykalos for that dreadful time
When the Captain had just let it happen, not even put up a fight

He saw the shadowy figure of Mykalos shift on the bridge above him
Spineless, passionless, non-caring, a company man through and through
Two years at sea and Jack still could not understand the oriental mind

The Star sailed on…
…not long now before a change of course, steering south, south west
out of Russian waters into the Baring Straits and on to the North Sea.

And there, at the helm (thought angry, grieving Jack) was a man
who would never see the significance of this voyage, Scottie’s sacrifice.
His dead friend. Goodwill to all men – like hell.

He did not doubt the irony was lost on the Chinaman.
Friendless in this hostile place, Jack’s thoughts turned to home
When Christmas was over he would not re-join the Star.

The Star sailed on…
… over the North Pole with its cargo of toys for all the children of Europe.

November 2017