Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Middle Passage


Sing to me, Mr. Interlocutor, sir
of original sin
Eve’s gorgeous apple, blood outside,
white skin within.

Sing of the Middle Passage
of that maggot, death
dancing belowdecks grinning: white-eyed faces,
smallpox teeth.

Of typhus sing, of dysentery
of brute necessity
to slough the infected outward toward the green
swallowing sea.

Sing then the endless ocean unknowable
to stolen men:
salt road, unreachable horizon, the long ancestral
gods at end.

Wind out of Africa sing: white sails swell
above hornpipe blown
to dance slaves’ withers on deck as evening falls.
No solid ground

to stand on. Bare feet, chains, wet planks
sun streaming
across the burnt, expulsive sky.

Sing: did some untongued Adam
look up, remark the wind, sail billowing:
his world

expunged by endless water
infinite sky
new world in rocking motion beneath his feet
a prayer to die

dancing behind ashanti lips?
Sing, old interlocutor, my guide,
the fecund place below the curving line
of salt and cloud

the markets of Savannah, waiting
america unnamed
hiding beyond the moaning ocean
waves, becalmed.


Sing to me, Bones, of Ezekiel, Ezra, Uriah:
Some Nantucket’s unconscienced
son reading bedazzled words of god aloud
as the cargo dance

across the blistering ocean,
skin burnt to blood.
“Who told you you were naked?” he intones
And so: the Flood.

O sing to me, Bones, of bellying
canvas like a wife’s
soft skin -- kneed and elbowed by the thing inside.
New life

begins here on grey rolling seas, sailors
in dark night groping
their pleasure bullocks belowdecks:
breaking women
open falling

on them hard: great Solomons
in Shebas’ fear-slicked
cunts, then rising in brute silence,
Cain-like, marked.

These ancient women, Bones, did these lost girls
lie curled and crying
forgotten, white seed moving in the dark
of them, more dying

than alive and praying to any god who’d listen
to them scream?
So came the god of scripture to the lost. Not gently though.
Our god is not a lamb.


And Tambo, other fool, give me your song.
The dancing’s done;
on Savannah’s green river
setting sun

blazing seeks out Nantucket’s pious
soul: he writes
to his New England masters
by whale oil light

to account the meager profits of the passage.
Past his window, night
grows slowly rich. Shore bound crickets hymn.
So he endites:

Because of gales and noisome disease
we are deplete
three abled bodied sailor’s mates.
Of Negroes a complete

accounting is here made: five live births, each surviving,
thrown to sea
and of the further count halfe dyed in transit.
Many more may be

lost of disease ere we dock Savannah
The women prove the stronger. They shall survive
for sale please god & save
for your most honoured selves a profite.


In the hold, in dawn before sale
a split-open woman
runs hands across her belly:
her pierced womb

a ship at anchor in harbor
sails furled
slack before coming wind, at rest in morning dark.
Listen: the girl

prays silent to whatever gods
kept her alive
all the pestilential long voyage
to arrive

in this undreamed-of country wounded
fierce, wild
she will be sold at morning great by rape with someone’s
pale and fugitive begotten bastard
blessed child.

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