Delmarva Review: Summoned At First Light, Melville’s White Jacket by David Salner


Delmarva Review Editor’s Note: David Salner’s poems are full of fresh and evocative images. He invites his readers in with exacting language, surprising metaphor and a subtle music. His work bears reading over and over as we discover layers of meaning. In “Summoned At First Light,” the poet imagines how Herman Melville, in his memoir “White Jacket,” may have looked back on an episode in his life from the vantage of many years. Melville is recounting a sailor’s flogging, commonly used at the time by the U.S. Navy as corporal punishment. Here, he conjures the thought of what to do with “beauty” at a time of man’s suffering.

Summoned At First Light, Melville’s White Jacket

Bare feet on deck, 

he felt the waves wash through the boards, 

the long swell, the tender holding of the sea. 


But when the boatswain twirled his cat, 

he guessed what they’d been summoned for. All afternoon, 

as the keen scourge hissed, he listened. Just listened,


which left a mark. Our lives are made of water, 

a wash of salts within us, a tide 

rising and falling back. As an old man, 


he watched the sun sink to a line

where sea and sky are blended, a measureless

haze at the horizon. And studied how the darkness


spread from wisps of pink and orange. And wondered, 

what am I to do with beauty?

What am I to do with that man’s pain?


David Salner’s writing appears in recent issues of Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, Salmagundi, Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, North American Review, and previously in Delmarva Review. His third book is Blue Morning Light (2016, Pond Road Press) and his fourth, From House to House, is to be published by Broadstone Media (fall, 2019). He worked as an iron ore miner, steelworker, machinist, longshoreman and has a MFA from the University of Iowa. He is writing a novel about the lives of the sandhogs who built the Holland Tunnel. Website:

“Delmarva Review” publishes the best of original new poetry, nonfiction, and fiction selected from thousands of submissions annually by authors within the region and beyond. The independent, nonprofit literary journal is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. The print edition is available from and Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford. An electronic edition is also sold at Website:


Letters to Editor

  1. Five new poems by David Salner will be printed in the 12th annual Delmarva Review, scheduled for November. An earlier poem, “Dry-Dock Music: Baltimore,” referred to Frederick Douglass’s journey to freedom, published in the Delmarva Review’s 9th edition and was also featured by Spy. Salner recently moved to the Delmarva Peninsula (Millsboro, DE) from the Baltimore area.

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