Babo Speaks from Lima
“deep memories yield no epitaphs”
The sun, like a round white bone,
beat our backs—this press borne
westward by the chains of that world
turning and whipped by wind
tattering shrouds furled even against
the broad black shoulders of night—
beat the caulked boards, our bare feet
burning, our wounds salt-stitched and raw;
beat the ocean’s eyes to diamonds;
beat down the tiny fishes that leapt in us.
What was it we wore around our
blood and wishes? Some tarred
covering as thin as the inside of a mirror.
Something blue eyes feared for the fear
reflected back at them. Judgments.
Evidence. Drumheads reverberant
with the beat of rowlocks and oars;
beat of the prow crashing toward
that vast, awful, undulating unknown;
beat each of us carried between
our ribs like a thousand nights
alive with legs and firelight, nights
I reclaimed sometimes in the quiet
moments when the firmament,
frozen there in the square of the open hold,
seemed like a sieve through which our untold
protests pulsed. For days I waited.
Watched. When Aranda paced the deck,
my malice followed as close as the famished,
fire-eyed, gale-blasted gulls, which lunged
incessantly at the aft. My head was a hive.
The sea the field of sorghum I’d scythed
before the dry wind blew in from Iberia.
I could no longer remember my daughter,
my wife. I sought them in the women confined
alongside me, and in every eye I spied
a mask I recognized. Night fell as night will fall.
I mined the eyes of Atufal and bade Dago
dig a Spanish grave out of the deep.
How black! How bilious, black, and sweet-
sick blood looks when splashed in moonlight.
I retched at the raw-egg stench of it
the way a boy will to smell a butchered pig.
Death watched, jack-eyed and fettered.
Hatchets dripped. Out of the forecastle
a fowl piped in its ague. All I knew a-keel,
my vision drowned, but come the sun
my purpose swam through the wrack.
I’d yaw even though we’d wreck. I’d barnacle.
O master, I’d try you out to your masts—
fittingly—and my hard heart crash me
back toward home like a figurehead, a figurehead.
Published in Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies, Fall 2006