The Lifeboat

This newsletter ends with a poem by Kerry-Lee Powell. “The Lifeboat” speaks to a traumatic memory of war that haunted her father, a WWII veteran, who eventually committed suicide. In a soon to be published book of poetry, entitled Inheritance, she examines psychological trauma and the lasting effects of war and violence on those who suffer them directly and on those to whom they are passed on.  



All night in his lifeboat my father sang

to keep the voices of the other men

who cried in the wreckage from reaching him,


he sang what he knew of the requiem,

of the hit parade and the bits of hymns,

he sang until he would never sing again,


scalding his raw throat with sea-water

until his ribs heaved, until the salt

wept from his eyes on dry land,


flecked at his lips in his squalling rages,

streaked the sheets in his night sweats

as night after night the re-assembled ship


scattered its parts on the shore of his bed,

and the lifeboat eased him out again

to drown each night among singing men.


Kerry-Lee Powell was born in Montreal and grew up in Antigua, Australia and the United Kingdom. Her work has appeared in The Spectator, Ambit and the Virago Press Writing Women series.  She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a National Magazine Award. In 2013, she won The Boston Review fiction contest and The Malahat Review’s Far Horizons prize for short fiction. Her debut collection of poetry is forthcoming from Biblioasis Press in 2014.



9 Responses to The Lifeboat

  1. Andrew Katz April 16, 2014 at 10:02 pm #

    If you would like to explore Kerry-Lee’s above poem further, McMaster University prof. Jeffery Donaldson offers a close, detailed analysis (audio-visual) of the poem on his website The Jeweller’s Eye:

  2. Gabrielle P. April 16, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

    I’m not the greatest in understanding poetry but I feel that this one was referring to PTSD. It baffles me that soldiers after WWI who demonstrated symptoms of PTSD were seen as weak whereas we now understand to what extent the trauma of war can claim the mind of soldiers and veterans. I can’t begin to understand how tormenting it would be to watch fellow colleagues screaming for help and drowning from the waves of an attacked vessel must be. This poem perfectly describes the night terrors of someone with PTSD and it is very moving.

  3. Sarah B.-R May 13, 2015 at 9:59 am #

    Though I don’t always fully understand poetry, this poems truly moves me. Never being affected by war in itself, I cannot even begin to imagine the suffering one may go through. This poem is touching since it offers us a glimpse into the suffering of survivors/victims of war.

  4. Maeva R October 17, 2015 at 3:52 pm #

    this poem is perfect to describe what the Syrian refugees are going through right now. they are crossing dangerous water in hope of a better future and risking their lives in hopes that a country will take them. people that go through such horror are the one’s who would be willing to give you anything, the world if you wanted. people who went through trauma are generally born with hearts of gold.

  5. Talia Rota December 9, 2015 at 9:12 am #

    I feel like this poem’s description of PTSD is very unique in the way we could practically feel Kerry-Lee’s father’s pain.

  6. Lorane Nercessian December 9, 2015 at 11:30 am #

    This poem is very deep. It shows how war affects someone mentally. Many soldiers have suffered PTSD, it is something every one should be aware of and should know how horrible it is. I can feel the writers father’s pain through the poem.

  7. Lili D December 9, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

    I really like poetry and I think this poem illustrates perfectly how no matter how hard war survivors try to get away from war once they are dealing with PTSD it’s almost impossible. The memories and emotions brought on by war follow them home, I think the poem is very well written.

  8. Mary-Jane R. December 15, 2015 at 10:18 am #

    Many of us refuse to see the truth hidden behind all the war hero stories. Many of the war heroes we hear about suffer from PTSD. They have lived through very traumatic events that they cannot even try to explain.

  9. James Houghton May 12, 2016 at 8:22 pm #

    I’m usually not a big fan of poetry, however I have a sense of appreciation for this poem. Firstly, when reading the poem, I can put myself into the fathers shoes and feel his pain, especially when she writes, “scalding his raw throat with sea-water”. Sometimes we don’t realize how much pain people are when exposed to violence. We see the physical pain, but for me, the emotional pain is something we still need to work on understand. PTSD is so dominant in people having experienced traumatic events and sometimes we see it as a weakness! But it isn’t! These people are extremely strong to be living with this disease.
    For me, I have had a family member that has been in a severe depression and so this is so close to my heart. Their emotional pain was so great that they described as seeing life as a dark screen. So, I really appreciate this poem because it puts into words what some people are thinking in their head which can be extremely painful.

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