Sunday, February 19, 2006

Hakluyt's Voyages

Ships of green wood, ill-carpentered, a velvet scum uncovered
By broaching the water barrels, and men of uncertain alliegance.
Six weeks since sight of land. A birdless sky, and rebellious winds,
Old wounds opening and teeth coming out of young men's jaws,
The telltale pause before following orders, the flicker of mutinous eyes,
We have seen all this before. We know what all this means.
Clouds chasing clouds out of a creaking shuddering unquiet sea;
A kiss from the cold wave, a splatter from its breast.

Holding by a withered linen tape, muttering, I go
And sailors scramble to avoid my eye. One bloody star
In the darkening gloom, Mars rising from our wake and burning
Like a reflection of the sunset in the Goddess's stern eye.
If she will not speak to me, then I must split my mouth to her.
"Lady," I say, "I did not think that you would serve me so,
After all I have done for you." Thunder moans astern, the sky
Shatters along a jagged blazing line.

She reminds me of her gifts. Two days the black-skinned people
Feasted us, and danced with us. On the third we took them slaves,
Sold them to the king of skulls. That was a fortunate start.
Then the Portuguese hoard of silver betrayed into our hands;
We nailed them to their doors, enemies and judases alike,
And fired the town. The Lady was kind to us that day, it's true,
The smoke of men burning, oily and thick, is in my nostrils yet.
"Shall I say more?" She whispers. The taffrail heaves.

"You promised me more," I say. "You know you promised me more."
Another levenflash. The men behind me groan, unless
It is the bones of this rotting ship. "You promised me happiness!"
I shriek, and she laughs, and drapes her hair across my beard,
And murmurs in my ear, "My precious fool, my little toy,
You're thinking of some other god. Happiness? What's that?
I promised you your heart's desire, that's all." A blackness opens.
Her leg is cold on my thigh. Her tongue is cold in my mouth.

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