Middle Passage

slave ship

Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On) painting by: Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1840. @MFA Boston

Ecphrastic poem written for English class, 2010

The ocean was set ablaze,                                                                                                                                 

Neptune got angry                                                                                                                                

like when Christ found the merchants in the temple.                                                                             

He drove his trident into the deep                                                                                          

overturning the calm seas                                                                                                                           

as the middle passage burned a yellowish orange                                                                                   

from the setting sun juxtaposed                                                                                                               

on the growing storm clouds and swells.                                                                                            

In a fiery haze the sunset illuminates the wicked ship                                                                         

and its jettisoned human cargo.                                                                                                             

The masts on the pastel sunset                                                                                                             

like California timbers in a wildfire.                                                                                             

The Ships wake now filled with men who were owned,                                                                 

as the ship was owned.                                                                                                                    

Slaves no more now struggling for breath                                                                                       

chests rising and falling with free air, and free water                                                                                  

Unable to swim, chattel still shackled but free.                                                                             

Their looming death preferred to what was in store in the new world.                                                 

The evil men sail on into their hellfire fate, into the eye of the storm                                                   

in the watchful eyes of the men they left for dead.                                                                             

The chains of the men cling and clang                                                                                                  

saying to Saint Peter, ‘we are ready’.                                                                                                

Arms and legs bound, unable to tread water.                                                                             

Shouting to their former captors, ‘adieu’,                                                                                             

as they see the ship capsize.                                                                                                               

Wave on wave growing larger,                                                                                                          

man after man drowning.                                                                                                                    

Those who remain smile                                                                                                                           

as they stare off at the sun.                                                                                                                      

The storm consumes them into an eternal calmness.                                                                   

Freedom.                                                                                                                                                       

They take one last look at the capsized ship.                                                                           

Justice.

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