Sarnia Bound

To the Sarnian shores, I´ll set my course
when the sky at dawn turns pale,
And the sea waves glow with sun-streaked foam
and a chill wind fills the sail.

Till the end of day, I’ll make my way
out across the boundless deep,
While a sea bird spreads his wings o’erhead,
and the sun sinks down to sleep.

Then beneath a looming midnight moon
will my ghostly vessel glide
Over ocean waves that rock their babe
all throughout the long night-tide.

And though none will tell, I’ll ring the bell
when a distant rock I glean;
“Land ahoy!” I’ll cry to the sea and sky,
To the empty hold unseen.

And the waves will churn, my heart will burn
as the waning shades grow short;
And a wafting wind will blow me in
To a bustling Sarnian port!



The Old Man Goes to Bed

to Rogelio

The corner house has one light lit
As now the clock strikes one.
The winter moon ascends to sit
Where lately sat the sun;
From high up in the clear night sky
It sheds cold light upon
The sleeping town, where most now lie
Like dead men till the dawn.

Inside, the old man strives to keep
His vigil by the fire,
But heavy eyelids, charged with sleep,
Now bid him to retire.
He sets his violin aside
And rises to his feet
To leave, like the withdrawing tide,
This isle of light and heat.

He stands beside the hearth awhile
And with a poker stirs
A few bright embers, which the pile
Of ash swiftly inters.
Outside, a lone dog barks his brute
Complaints to all around,
But this old man, resigned and mute,
Makes not the slightest sound.

He turns an old key in the latch
And checks the whole house well,
Just like a chick, about to hatch
Turns round inside its shell.
Then, having stopped to set the clock,
Through darkened halls he winds;
And having checked the back door lock,
And having drawn the blinds,

He takes one long and pensive look
At where his heart´s desire
Would sweetly sit and read a book
Beside a roaring fire.
But now the flames have all died out
The ash lies cold tonight—
So with one final look about,
He switches off the light.

Beside his bed, he strips and seems
A ghost beside a tomb
Bathed in the light of spectral beams
That shine into his room.
Once tucked beneath his quilt so warm
The old man lies content,
And gazes on a lovely form,
So round and eloquent—

The silent moon, that rides on high,
Godiva-like, both nude
And radiant in the empty sky,
Sublime in solitude;
Beholding, as it were, his twin,
The old man shuts his eyes,
And soon, the two will fade from view
And sink in the sunrise.



Night Crossing

See there below the somber cliffs,
Under the dome of night?
Silent and swift, a small boat slips
Over the waters bright.

Over that gem-strewn sea of glass
Lit by the moon’s bright beams,
Onward it sails across the bay,
Plying its golden streams.

Delicate as an upturned shell
Bobbing upon the tide,
Onward the moon-robed phantom floats
over the waters wide.

Tiny, alone, and all aglow,
Leaving behind the cove,
Girded by murky depths below,
Fathomless depths above.

Peaceful, she glides, a radiant sprite
Over the darksome waves
Fearlessly speeding through the night
Out to the galleon graves.

Through the wee hours, she travels on,
Journeying toward the sea,
Bounded on every side by depths,
Rounded by mystery.

Thus, every soul must set its sails,
Leaving behind the land,
Heading out toward the open sea,
Held by an unseen hand.

Singly, yet not alone, we sail
For, as by diamonds bright,
Our way across the waste is lit
By ghostly beams of light.

Slender, long fingers trace our path
Whether we wake or sleep,
Pointing the way to journey’s end
Beyond the boundless deep.



Martin Rizley grew up in Oklahoma and in Texas, and has served in pastoral ministry both in the United States and in Europe. He is currently serving as the pastor of a small evangelical church in the city of Málaga on the southern coast of Spain, where he lives with his wife and daughter. Martin has enjoyed writing and reading poetry as a hobby since his early youth.

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11 Responses

  1. James A. Tweedie

    Martin, each of these poems uses rhyme and rhythm to create an atmosphere that sets the stage for a good story. What I appreciate most is the vivid, thought-provoking imagery, especially in Night Crossing where phrases like “gem-stoned sea of glass” and “fathomless depths above” led me into experiencing an ordinary image in an extraordinary way. The common theme of nighttime darkness silvered by the moon makes the poems an appropriate posting for the darkening season of Autumn amidst the lingering atmosphere of Halloween and late harvest. Thank you for taking me on three captivating journeys ere I had yet risen to greet the day!

    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you so much, James, for sharing the things you liked about the poems. I am glad to know they succeeded in creating a certain atmosphere that drew you in and took you a “journey.”

  2. Peter Hartley

    I liked all three of these but particularly the second which seems full of ambiguity. Is the house large or small? The comparison with the space occupied by a bird about to hatch suggests a very small house indeed: the time it takes to lock up and the plurality of halls implies the contrary. Does he die that night or not? I don’t know. The scene is sombre, almost dismal, yet the old man seems happy enough playing the violin on his own, and after checking the house is secure he lies down content. The scene is well constructed and creates for me a strong image.

    • Martin Rizley

      Perhaps the ambiguity regarding the size of the house stems from the fact that in my mind’s eye, it is a “composite” of different houses I have known. In real life, Rogelio– to whom the poem is dedicated– was an elderly man I knew when I was living in central Spain in the region of La Mancha. He was a widower who lived all by himself in a small house at the end of a street in a village about 20 minutes from where I lived. His only companion was a beloved violin which he loved to play.

      He had lived through the “years of hunger” in Spain after the civil war, and had known his share of sorrow and want. But he was nevertheless one of the most cheerful men I have ever known. Though poor in material wealth, he was rich in faith and in the immaterial riches of God’s kingdom. He seemed to be always overflowing with joy and thankfulness to God.

      When I was back in the U.S. and heard that he had died I was moved to write this poem imaging his last night on earth.

  3. Sally Cook

    I particularly like “The Old Man Goes To Bed”l, A very graceful composition, the emotional component of which reminded me of my father, after my mother died.

  4. Anna J. Arredondo

    Martin, I enjoyed all three of your poems, especially the second. I really felt like I was there observing the old man’s final bedtime routine. What a lovely and poignant tribute to your friend.

  5. David Watt

    Martin, your three poems are atmospheric and melodic. I am not alone in being particularly taken with “When The Old Man Goes to Bed”.
    The back story you provided further enhanced my enjoyment.

  6. Martin Rizley

    Anna and David,
    Thanks for your feedback. I am encouraged that the poems achieved their intend of creating an atmosphere and (in the second) of rendering tribute to a dear elderly gentleman I knew.

  7. Monty

    I too was particularly struck with your ode to Rogelio: although I should confess that it wasn’t till I’d read your accompanying comment that I realised he’d died that night. I can see now why, initially, I couldn’t grasp the last two lines. They appeared to be (they are!) a delicious simile for the sun replacing the moon in the morning; but I couldn’t relate those words to a sleeping human. Needless to say – as soon as I gained the additional information, it all made perfect sense.

    This is proper poetry, Martin: in the sense of taking a simple everyday happening (a man gets tired and goes to bed) and rendering it into something more poignant; which you’ve done effortlessly with your abundantly rich use of language and imagery. I feel that even if Rogelio had awoken as normal the next morning; this piece would still’ve stood-up as a well-crafted poem (apart from the two lines I referred to, of course). It’s so carefully and delicately written; with some thoughtful metaphors . . and some imaginative turns-of-phrase, such as “..which the ash inters” and “..a dog barks his brute complaint” . . quality!

    The very existence of this poem impels me to proffer that you and Rogelio have done each other proud: You’ve done HIM proud by composing such an engaging piece in his memory . . and he’s done YOU proud just by being the type of person he was; which, in turn, compelled you to write it.

    What a pleasant way for you to remember him by.

    • Martin Rizley

      Monty, I appreciate your highlighting the features of the poem that you felt most stood out. Thank you for taking the time to offer this critique.


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