It is the sort of North European village
where storks from Spain or Morocco might spend the summer
and writers might settle to savor the bracing quiet.
Did anyone ever grow wealthy in this place?
The fishermen’s crofts along the dykes
are simple homes, and those who have lived in the farmsteads
that stand like stranded hay-wains
stuck at the ends of lanes of pollard willows
won’t ever have made much more from the land
than the wittering sheep that crop the grass.
“It’s the fourth largest in the world,” says our friend,
as we walk to the deepwater fleet that flows into the Elbe,
the fleet from which the village takes its name.
He means the enormous yacht that is under construction in the dock.
It is three times the height of any building anywhere in sight.
I’d pictured something forty feet long, with sails,
but this is the size of a North Sea ferry plying out of Hamburg.
“The American who thought he wanted it
tired of it quickly and sold it on to a sheikh.
The sheikh had marble flooring laid throughout.
It added tons to the displacement. When he got rid of it,
the present owner, another billionaire,
had all the marble ripped right out again.
Might as well burn your millions. Still, it means jobs.”
An army of hard-hatted fitters and welders,
engineers with clipboards, men in overalls or suits,
are swarming under the cantilevered gantry of a crane.
“That camp of cabins has doubled the population.
Watch for the numberplates. Spanish. Polish. Everybody’s here.”
We walk on past the dock to where the fleet flows into the Elbe.
The muscled waters gather. Strong and confident and old,
the river writes no chronicles, affords no consolation:
it has only the beauty and might of a natural thing, no more, no less.
The tree-line on the farther bank, a half-hour ferry ride away,
is fading into April warmth and haze
where light and land and water meet and marry.
Nothing I see I own. And nothing would I wish to own.