The National Catholic Review
John Hodgen
Slaving captains...sometimes tried to avoid arrest by a mass drowning of every slave in the cargo.
Daniel P. Mannix, Black Cargoes

Nothing remotely bordering truth to be said for the ones held deep in the hold
hauled up the rotting ship stairs, each dripping face, hand, knee, elbow, ass,
all clambering, scratching, clawing at the yellow gunwales, until the critical mass
of those already thrown overboard pulled them too, still chained, so bold
in their descent, gleaming, hell-bent, their bubbled breaths still held,
past bull sharks, groupers, blue and black, mahi mahi, dolphin fish, never schooled
for such as this, yoked chum, a village wriggling, spiraling down, en masse,
to land, riprap, a bracelet of bodies, a beaded living necklace.

The oldest lie would say they died free, gurgling, welcoming death, the hulled
shell above them a new covenant ark, that they rose, walked smiling to Atlantis,
bathed in the jeweled waters of Avalon. They did not. They died, truly, each carcass
chewed and flayed. Still, just this morning, in the blue and black mist that lies above the cold,
I saw them walking, schoolchildren alighting from the yellow ships of their buses,
each with a hand held freely to another, each with another hand to hold.

John Hodgen teaches at Assumption College and the Worcester Art Museum. He is the author of In My Father’s House (winner of the 1993 Bluestem Award) and Bread Without Sorrow (2002, Lynx House Press) and is the recipient o

Comments

Sami Swan Thompson | 3/15/2009 - 10:45pm
John Hodgen's line: "A bracelet of bodies, a beaded living necklace" embodies everything I strive for in poetry - simplicity, beauty, and power. His entire poem evokes such a gut reaction from me as a reader that I had to get up and go walk around outside for awhile after reading it. I hope he's getting the recognition he deserves. And I hope to one day be even somewhat close to his level. In short: WOW! You rock, John! Thank you!
Sally Kosmalski | 3/7/2009 - 3:46am
I am reminded of the movie, "Amistad." 50 slaves were thrown overboard, all chained together and I can't help but wonder if that movie inspired John to write the above poem. I like the poem. Sally K.

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