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.
They take one last look at the capsized ship.