Shipmate Thomas Dickson sent an email to me containing the following prose. I have been reluctant in the past to post anything that I could not verify and post with proper credits. Fortunately Thomas knew the author and we had him in our database of 658 shipmates. Dave Dickey has graciously given his permission for us to post his poem on our site. Following is his response to my request along with his poem, “The Cylinder”




Having spent many a watch roaming the engineering spaces with a clipboard standing watch as the "Auxiliary Electrician Aft" I got in the habit of sticking a few extra sheets of paper in the clipboard and writing and reworking verses. I don't remember the exact time frame, but I'm thinking that this poem, along with several others, was created over the course of my 6th and 7th patrol, about 1980. As I recall I wrote this out long hand in a green record book that I left behind for posterity.


As I reread this for the first time in over 20 years I have to agree that it is a bit dark and cynical, but spending a patrol doing port and starboard watches in the engineering spaces can do that to you. While I have to admit that there are many good memories of my time at sea, it was not the boat that was the source of them, it was the people I was with. The boat itself was just the cold hard cylinder contained here and reading this takes me back to the somber reality that was life under water.



The Cylinder

By Dave Dickey

USS Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo (SSBN-658)


I live inside a cylinder a carcass made of steel

There is no world outside of here, at least not one that's real

At times I can deceive myself and think that it is true

There is a world outside of here the sky it has it blue

But then the harsh reality is forced into my head

There are no times but here and now the other times are dead


I live inside a cylinder the air is human made

The smell it has is singular its memory will not fade

It smells of oil dirt and sweat and laundry yet undone

And of its many sufferers I too must count as one

More than a hundred breathe this air I may be last in line

I pray to god that it will last and breathe it one more time


I live inside a cylinder surrounded yet alone

I weary at the solitude and long to be at home

I'm glad I have no family no wife and child to wait

And force them to endure this life that I have grown to hate

But soon they say it all will end our exile will be done

And just as soon I will be back to make another run


I live inside a cylinder hidden safely in the sea

The theory is they bomb my home but still they don't kill me

Retaliation is our task to kill the human race

When they bomb us we bomb them the world's a burning waste

We wear a face of virgin silk our death mask underneath

All trying to forget the fact our job is to cause grief


I live inside a cylinder machinery is lord

For they control my destiny I heed their every word

They give me water light and air and keep me safe and warm

And in return I work on them, fix them when they alarm

On all this technology my very life depends

The failure of most any part could bring it to an end


I live inside a cylinder with memory going blind

The things I knew just yesterday are getting hard to find

I know there must be other things outside these prison walls

The longer that I stay inside the less I can recall

Like a dam that started leaking my memory is drained

I hope that I can leave this place with sanity retained


I live inside a cylinder a prisoner of sorts

Sentenced into solitary without benefit of courts

This is the perfect prison here a hundred miles to sea

Two hundred feet below the waves there's no such thing as free

It's said we need to deter crime reduce the prison rolls

So send the offenders out to sea to make deterrent patrols


I live inside a cylinder or is it a sewer pipe

I've thrown three years into this hole it's time to flush and wipe

The thanks you get for jobs well done is just more work to do

But if you are incompetent the opposite is true

In just three years I've reached the top with nothing left to gain

And any more time I spend here is just more down the drain


I live inside a cylinder or maybe it's a cage

The keeper's playing games outside to keep me in a rage

They feed me tidbits now and then and keep me whipped in line

While I just sit by quietly and try to bide my time

For one day soon my time will come the odds are in my favor

They'd better get their hits in now 'cause I won't be here later


I live inside a cylinder I think sometimes perhaps

It's just a hollow eggshell that is waiting to collapse

This bubble that I'm riding has no eyes with which to see

We steer ourselves with what we hear and maps which plot the sea

I hope this fragile casing holds until I go elsewhere

'Cause any time you roll the dice the house must take its share


I live inside a cylinder a world that's self contained

Where everything is made by man and nature is disdained

An artificial universe processed and pasteurized

Where even air is made by man and the food all comes freeze-dried

The lord has built of earth and flesh but man just builds of steel

The world man built does not compare with the other one that's real


I live inside a cylinder a human sardine can

First they put equipment in and then they added man

The only room there was for men were several six foot cubes

So these were split up into sixths one each among the crew

There's no such thing as privacy and nothing can be hid

My space is but a coffin with a curtain for a lid


I live inside a cylinder where lives the two faced man

But when he smiles and pats your back beware the other hand

One face he shows is always kind complete benevolence

But when he sees you turn your back it turns malevolent

Yet even when he changes face a third is on the shelf

It is the one he always serves the one that serves himself


I live inside a cylinder no longer asking why

And suffer the indignities without a tear to cry

My senses they have all been dulled I find it hard to care

So I just block emotions off behind a vacant stare

The choice to fight or let it pass is best served by the latter

'Cause in the end you'll always find it really doesn't matter


I live inside a cylinder the newest of the fleet

The technology is ancient, a prehistoric beast

Electronics from the fifties the steam plant's World War II

Transistors are uncommon with relays we make due

I thought "Nuc" power would be new I've found it something other

Technology has passed us by it's too late to recover


I live inside a cylinder by name a submarine

We do our job beneath the sea both silent and unseen

The multitudes cannot conceive a life below the sea

The things they take for granted are just memories to me

The few protect the many the many soon forget

Alone inside a cylinder the sentinel is set


used with permission