Moondrifter Reverie

The long gone ferry San Rafael | post by Larry Clinton | photo © Bruce Forrester

Keith Emmons, who lived as an anchor-out for ten years in the 1970s, is a poet and storyteller who has written numerous observations of that Utopian civic experience.

In 1972, Keith and his fiancé were living in Oakland and planning a summer trip back East. They gave up their apartment and were looking for affordable housing when they met the girlfriend (now wife) of waterfront photographer Bruce Forrester, who gave them a card advertising a converted lifeboat for sale at Gate 6. The 21-foot hull was too small for them, but as they were walking off the rickety floating dock, Keith began feeling an affinity with the funky anchor-out community. He’d learned to love the ocean sailing off Cape Cod as a kid. Then they spotted an ad for another residence, the Moondrifter, at Gate 3. “It was beautifully rustic inside,” Keith recalls, “with picture windows that looked out on Belvedere, Angel Island, or Mount Tamalpais, depending on which way she rode at anchor.”

Each morning, Keith would climb a tripod mounted on a sunken barge off Main Dock, where he could see all the beached ferries, from the Van Damme to the Vallejo. They inspired this poem:

Moondrifter Reverie

Look at this ferryboat!
Look at this monster of wood,
a prehistoric hulk
sinking into the mud
like some mastodon into tar.

The stack
higher than Angel Island.
Gaping windows without glass.
You list heavily, old timber-rot.
Once you took automobiles into your belly
through your — gaping maw.
Steam whistle — puff-up of white! —
deafened the ladies wearing lace
waving to friends from the balcony rail.

You are a dead hulk now, worms
gnaw at your bones,
your pilot house leans,
your iron-hubbed paddle-wheel elbows,
—greater than any man—sink,
slowly settle into the silent centuries,
into the sucking mud.

This poem, and many others, appear in Keith’s new book Moondrifter Reverie, available at the Sausalito Library, from the publisher (Red Mountain Press) and at Book Passage. To order a signed copy of Moondrifter Reverie, check out Keith’s website.

Related post: Sausalito Waterfront Poet Reads at the Library