Category Archives: Poetry

Kika Dorsey

Hunger

Austria, 1946

 

I’m hungry all the time.

We forage in the Alps for mushrooms and elderberry blossoms

that we dip in cornmeal and fry from the butter

of a neighbor’s cow.

The oak and beech disappear as I climb

further to fir, larch, and pine.

I pick edelweiss and arnica

to set in the blue glass vase on our table.

We eat the polenta with what we have gathered,

and Mutti is always angry,

Vati a traveling tailor and never around,

hungry stepchildren.

 

Once we accidentally ate poisonous mushrooms.

I knew something was wrong when the August light

turned orange and from the faces of Russian soldiers

emerged black beetles,

and my brother lay holding his stomach and vomiting.

 

My stomach is full of knives.

It is an empty cavern, a cave

where my dead mother dwells below budding breasts.

 

Sometimes I want to cross the River Mur

and never return.

Sometimes the river roils in my body

and I pull the sun into me.

Sometimes I see a golden eagle on the elm tree.

 

He looks royal,

as if he’s won a war.

______________________________________________________________

Kika Dorsey is a poet and English instructor from Boulder, Colorado. She has published in numerous journals, including the Columbia Review, KYSO Flash, The Denver Quarterly. She has two books published, Beside Herself (Flutter Press, 2010) and Rust (Word Tech Editions, 2016). She is currently working on a manuscript about post-WW2 Austria inspired by stories from her Austrian mother. When not writing, teaching, and raising her teenage children, she runs and hikes in the mountains and plains of her Colorado home.

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Daniel W. Galef

Dagobert to Childebert

 

Poor King! Knew ye strength stems from God alone?

For even Hercules or Samson falters.

I, blood of Merovech, served foreign altars

Since your father stole my locks and throne.

Was I as blind as Samson, too? Perhaps

I thought my power, robbed, lay in my tresses.

In fact, the crown itself, a Robe of Nessus,

Means nothing by the mayors’ pointed caps.

A king is born to rule. So has it stood

Since first the Lord saw fit kings to ordain.

Had I the might of Samson, then I could

Topple Grimoald’s palace round his head;

Instead, I’ll sit and serve my meager reign,

Till those who rule decide I’m better dead.

______________________________________________________________

Daniel W. Galef has published poetry in Measure, Light Quarterly, and the Lyric, among others. He has also written short fiction, sketch comedy, science & technology journalism, and two musical plays, one of which won the First Prize at the 2016 McGill Drama Festival and the Krivy Award for Excellence in Playwriting. This poem is part of a series of “Imaginary Sonnets” modeled on those composed by Lee-Hamilton in 1888 in his collection of the same title–persona poems that function as verse soliloquies in the voice of literary and historical characters.

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Franklin Gillette

The Course of Empire

Based on the paintings of Thomas Cole in the New York Historical Society

 

I. SAVAGE STATE

 

The metropolis builds giant oaks

hovering over commuting streams of ants.

Owls, hawks and eagles glide like planes

delivering express cargo of field mice

and besieged rabbits to penthouse holes.

 

No maps exist except for inborn instincts.

There are no suburbs, city or county lines,

yet property rights are closely marked by scent.

Rain and wind—the only tax collectors

balance as does the census never taken.

 

II. PASTORAL STATE

 

Clothing ourselves we forget ourselves —

our shapes confuse in bags of drapery.

Even campfire smoke has docile harmony.

The clouds have settled.  The Shepard with his stick

walks flocks back plushy planted lawns.

 

All spring and fall they labor on the farm

hoping weather will not wreak their work.

Eden, where, they didn’t have to work,

is lost, its fruit of knowledge only taught

them to think their own nakedness.

 

III. CONSUMMATION OF EMPIRE

 

Here art replaces nature, policy

replaces instinct or intuition,

marble pillars replace trunks of trees,

rocks are cut to roads replacing fields,

and human beings become domesticated slaves.

 

On other species one species imposes,

and a small circle dominates that species

while rulers worship statues of the gods

or on silk, reclining in their palaces,

bored from building, pass time counting coins.

 

IV. DESTRUCTION

 

Pushed by hunger, ambition and revenge

invaders eye a populous draped in silk,

seeking weakness they find decadence,

cowardly leaders, whimsical gaggling mobs

only vigilant on topics tickling the brain.

 

The beautiful city waits too long… bewildered

the headless marble hero charges his sword…

escape boats burn… sink…. bridges collapse;

witnesses of the attack alert the outskirts

which chuckle: “how could our empire fall?”

 

V. DESOLATION

 

They die.  Only the shattered pieces remain

to sink into the earth.  Thousands of years

go by.  A farmer’s or sheepherder’s child

with his friend, or amateur explorers,

or drillers find a broken piece of bronze.

 

Archeologists flying to the site

dig deeper finding the pattern of the streets

which we follow on the TV News,

the ancient capitol once thought a myth

ships to museums in our current empire.

______________________________________________________________

Franklin Gillette won the Starr Symposium Poetry Contest and his work has appeared in Poetry East, Light Quarterly and many other magazines. He is also an opera librettist, a painter and a spiritual teacher.

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The Bamberger & Wahrmann Antiquariat Bookshop 

By Maya Wahrman

By now in Germany

rare books were so unwanted you could buy a sack

for only a shilling. So downtown Jerusalem

was bookshops bustling

with treasures of the written word

from the exile-land. Men of faith, famous authors,

 

many frequented his store, mingled among

the bookshelves, set out to explore

the words he owned and printed. Vanilla,

must, tan wood-based pages, bound.

The aroma made a man want books

with his tongue. Some men

 

found books they’d always wanted,

some wanted books they’d just found.

One customer fingered spines as he muttered prayer

under his breath. Rebuild our city Jerusalem,

please, hurry! It was 1939,

Jerusalem was being rebuilt in our time,

 

the storeowner’s home back in Frankfurt

was torn apart.

In the store,

men from all over the city would start

reliving, would meet Jews who seemed

foreign, would accustom themselves

to the desert dry heat of the Judean hills.

 

No longer reliving, now living.

He died. Store shut, past-life books

became harder to find.

But men said and wrote,

the city was never the same

when the doors closed.

______________________________________________________________

Maya Wahrman graduated from Princeton University’s Department of History, with certificates in Creative Writing and Near Eastern Studies.  She currently works at Princeton’s Office of Religious Life on issues of faith and forced migration. She has had opinion pieces published in the English and Hebrew editions of Haaretz, and has had poetry published in the Nassau Literary Review, the Jewish Currents poetry anthology Urge, and Sweet Tree Review.

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From an Open Window

By Ashley Kauffman

From an open window,

I saw a sea of people lined up to greet us.

 

They moved closer as we exited the plane,

Like waves that were anxious to touch the shore.

 

I wore the pale pink suit,

That he loved so much.

 

I graciously accepted the red roses,

As we greeted people on our way to the limousine.

 

His presence projected a beacon of hope,

That made people feel secure,

And somehow gave them a sense of direction.

 

Massive crowds just wanted to snap a picture,

Or reach out and touch his hand.

 

American flags were strung uniformly across the streets,

Providing a gentle reminder of all we had to be thankful for.

 

We drove through Dealey Plaza,

As we headed toward the Trade Mart.

 

It was November 22, 1963,

My first public appearance since I lost the baby.

 

I felt a sense of closeness to him,

That sometimes was hard to feel,

Because of the current,

That pulled him in so many different directions.

 

I smiled and waved,

As my pink pillbox hat,

Remained securely on my head.

 

From an open window,

Shots were fired,

And my life would never be the same.

______________________________________________________________

Ashley Kauffman is from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and is employed as a teacher with the Mechanicsburg Learning Center. She has enjoyed writing since she used her imagination to bring her first story to life in second grade. Ashley received her B.A. in English, and is currently working to obtain her M.A. in Children’s Literature through Penn State University. She is an avid collector of vinyl records, Golden Books, and vintage typewriters. Ashley is legally blind and considers herself to be a differently-abled person who has spent her life envisioning the world with the turn of each page.

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Eve Brackenbury

Forgive Me, Mother. My Heart is Blue.

 

My Dearest Mother, forgive me,

for today I stood before God

and swore loyalty to mine enemy.

My sons and husband are dead,

and I am asked to bury my hatred.

I have done so and I have begged

that I might return home to you.

 

Forgive me, Mother,

my heart has turned cold and Blue.

What was not burned has been picked at

by packs of wild dogs. Full of mange,

full of rage and madness, they took over

looting  after Ewing’s dogs left.

And now these dreaded dogs,

they plunder our fields for bones.

 

The murderous rage of those bent on abolishing

all we had has taken all from me!

 

I returned to what has been called a vast cemetery.

It seems to me a generous assessment,

for even our graves were turned out.

Snow and ash cover what few stones remain,

a Grey reminder. And in that respect,

a vast cemetery indeed.

 

Mother, I beg for your forgiveness,

for I buried your Bible next to your bones,

thinking you might keep it safe.

And the silver comb Father brought back

from the old country to give to his bride.

I knew not what else to do;

we were given only a fortnight to flee.

We have been punished for our honor,

most severely and without mercy.

 

Mother, forgive me if you can find it in your heart,

for I have chosen to marry a Union man.

He carries a Bible close to his breast

and has offered absolution for my sins.

His very dog he pledged to me for protection.

A silver comb, his bridal gift to me.

* * * * *

 

An historical footnote about The American Civil War’s General Order No. 11:

This poem is about a fictional woman who suffered during a very real and very devastating consequence of the Border Wars between Kansas and Missouri during the Civil War. Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Ewing, commander of the District of the Border issued the infamous General Order No. 11 on August 25th, 1863. It was in direct response to the raid on Lawrence on August 21st, 1863. In the order, Ewing banished the citizens from in the border counties—Jackson, Cass, and Bates Counties and part of Vernon County in Missouri . It was assumed the citizens, most likely so, in these counties gave support to the guerrillas. Those who swore allegiance to the Union were exempt from the order. Yet, loyal or disloyal, the citizenry suffered under a ruthless execution of revenge. Buildings and homes were burned, livestock and possessions were taken, people were murdered even while trying to evacuate and follow the order. Many buried what possessions they couldn’t take with them and later returned to find them dug up and burned. The land was completely desecrated. The area became a wasteland. It is estimated that 25,000 people were displaced.  In January of 1864, those who swore loyalty to the Union were allowed to return. Two years later, a minister named George Miller returned to the area and noted, “For miles and miles we saw nothing but lone chimneys. It seemed like a vast cemetery — not a living thing to break the silence … Man no longer existed here.”

______________________________________________________________

Eve Brackenbury, Missouri bookseller, poet, and history interpreter. Author of A Companion of Lesser Brilliance(with Paul McGlamery), The Lennox Garden: Pressed Between Pages (with Phillip King), and Shadowed Grounds: Poems. Also, published in two weighty anthologies, and a smattering of journals, etc. Although much of her work is found in print, she prefers spending time with her audience. She’s a frequent guest and host for poetry readings and public speaking engagements.

“Forgive Me, Mother. My Heart is Blue” was originally written for the Blue Springs Historical Society, and performed for a 2013 commemoration of the 150th anniversary of General Order No. 11. It is published in Shadowed Grounds: Poems, a self-published chapbook.

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Susan L. Leary

Fraipertuis

 

Scenes like this were common:

planks ready for building but having endured the opposite,

heaps of rubble

heaped as if intentional, life in black

and white.  Everywhere, aisles of human remains:

three and four story buildings,

the walls entirely

blown out,

so all that’s erect is construct and vague ideas of former activity,

for you, that of female souls,

a mother in the center of the living

room, her hair gathered in a handkerchief and knotted

at the nape, bent over a coffee table

about to dust it.

Walking through, you are young

but act like old men, carrying not guns or boots or medical

supplies, but the threat of self-made noise:

hand to pocket,

sole to gravel,

breath to atmosphere,

and later,

at an abandoned starch factory, its makeshift tables in wait of bodies,

the flickering of candlelight.

It is the first night,

but nothing about this is dress up:

no curtain raised, no recognizable transition,

only room made as someone is rushed in,

buttons torn,

flesh reached,

an artery clamped

with immediate improvisation, everyone crouched

knees-over-boots,

heads huddled,

not getting it yet, none of you, how, pushing morphine,

you are to become a prop of comfort,

the kind that

accompanies casualty.

So I’m wondering how,

later, it gets decided—and by later,

the span of a few days: who will wear the wig,

or hold the cane,

what to do with the detective hat,

or the one with, glued to its brim, looks to be a fabric daisy,

the petals exaggerated,

these things, as soon-to-be artifacts of your horseplay,

first noticed

from inside the government-marked box,

seeking exit,

so that among the crates and others boxes

and bags,

piled high, of grain, that box

tilted,

slightly, on its axis,

abandoned during the heavy fire in such a way—sticking out

and settled in,

though separate from the ruins—that guaranteed

your audience.

And yet, penciled on the back,

Company C actors of the 325th Medical Battalion—famous

among the locals,

and flipping it

to you and three others—yourselves

yet costumed,

it disappears, any reason, for you to be in Fraipertuis.

This image, there is no implication of war,

only camaraderie without context:

guffaw, grunt, bellow, the last leaning in, his leg kicked back

for effect,

as if home, grabbing a drink, something funny

just said,

nothing feigned in the ritualistic man-hoot of insider knowledge,

the slap of the counter,

or that quick brute contact,

so as to not pass that threshold where men are no longer themselves

but men.

Then the clang and ricochet of the glass:

cheers before tomorrow,

when midday, you will bring to life Tec Sergeant Seebeck

and Pfc Webb, no script, no devising,

no hunt for substance, only parody—artless

is its material, and to even notice,

artless—

so that out there,

what’s left of the city your stage,

a slab of cobblestone intact,

its people, who, you have only imagined, crawling from their graves

to rejoice in a scene in which you are you

but your comrade,

knowing, for the first time, what it’s like to be known,

without knowing

that you are.

A scene in which you are neither of these people:

not a soldier, not a man who will take his own life

when he returns home.

______________________________________________________________

Susan L. Leary is a Lecturer in English Composition at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL.  Her recent creative work is forthcoming in After the Pause.

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Gretchen Meixner

Notes on the Death of Henry VIII

He fell so heavily

Our hearts can barely hold

His holy mass, the divinity

Of his mighty flesh.

How does a man cease

When once he commanded

An army and all its wives?

How to silence a mouth

When once it bade our piety,

And the rising of our arms

Such inhumane tragedy!

Pustules leaking, staining

A glorious bed that birthed

Princesses and their brother.

Sour knob of flesh that

Tormented, and influenced

A trusting king to sew

Bright yarns of suspicion,

Threaded cloths of envy.

Pain, such agony to

View an empty crown

Stuck with bristles of hair,

Lightly touching the head

Unable to wrap around

And protect the brain,

How could he hope to

Resist the thrall of courtiers?

Scurrying around his mane,

Sticking needles in his bone.

A defender of faith and

The sanctity of marriage,

So much that he persevered

With those less inclined,

To marry again and again

Four times more with

Almost wives in between

To practice his fidelity on.

Glorious, gone to soon,

Despairing children continue

His massive dynasty,

How shall they know

Their own unstoppable value

Without his paternal instruction?

How shall daughters marry

Without the perfect image of

Body, soul, and enduring faith

To measure their betrothed?

A man of peace,

Painting pictures of war.

His enemies sought to

Bring him into battle

He responded so that

His children would have suitors,

And soldiers could die of

Glorious, gaping wounds

Rather than the merciless sweat.

No one alive shall regret

His rule, the corpulent kingdom.

Tower walls sigh happily

At their constant occupation

All men have employment

Whether it be sorting through

Adorned crosses and icons

Or plucking jewels off hands.

Someone must be paid to

Secure the woman in velvet

Separate her little neck from

Her wispy, gold-stained head.

Remorse is impossible!

Like forgetting the sun.

Sisters grew up humble

Unpolluted by tenderness,

All the better to obey

Their wet, wise prince,

Kept firmly hidden

In the house of glass.

All love runs dry,

By sword or by silence

And all progeny must learn

To deny their inheritance,

All crosses and oaths broken,

All devourers, eventually devoured.

Anne, Elizabeth

Wild to hold,

Easy to cut loose.

This, I learned from you.

To speak passion without provocation,

To form hungry enemies,

These things I must avoid.

Untouched means undigested,

I will not be devoured.

 

You do seem tame,

The mother replies.

And had I not your blood

Drying up in my veins

I would trust your stoic wrath.

But God-sent or God’s divined,

You still come from me,

The shrew, the whore, the

Apple-cheeked lie.

Your fire rages underneath

Your scalp, covered by a

Mane of false ruby.

 

How do we inherit pain?

I tried to spare you,

I tried to die with the

Dignity my crown denied.

But you still carried the blade,

Restlessly on a narrow shoulder.

Ugly men touched you,

Wept their ails upon you

Then lost their wooden heads.

 

How painful is death?

Worse for your heart than mine,

I had but one, daughter to lose

And you had four mothers,

Perhaps your father hurts

More than we could imagine

For the cost of each bride.

 

The daughter frowns at

Her mother’s sad dryness.

How can I love? She asks.

How dare I embellish

One mysterious soul to

Make him my own match?

God’s ordained and untouchable,

I come with a heavy price

No courtier can willingly pay.

What am I but dust,

A contradiction made of gold?

 

Legal, than subdued

Beloved, then reviled.

What fates could have waited

Were they not extinguished

By the aches of kings?

Happier in poverty than

In power, I do not seek

To question my own breath.

We are what we are,

You bones and I bread.

 

A mother wants her daughter

To be a daughter, and not

Only the bride of an island.

My dear, my darling one,

She speaks, how can I

Have lost you so completely?

It is not veins and lungs

That separate our souls

But the decay of decades.

I grew up proud, you ashamed.

The difference has made us

Sad strangers. I am not angry

For your disloyalty, who would

Claim a witch as a sovereign

Much less a mother?

You have been brought up to

Love the wives of your king

Then weep quietly when they die.

Law dictates your fealty

To the man that kills them.

Where would I fit in this story

But underneath the brick,

With all the forgotten?

 

I know their secrets, my love

I know how we all came to be.

A different turn, another line,

We would all be anonymous.

Portraits of unknown women

Holding hands, unknown author.

Look at our simple, tranquil faces.

 

The daughter feels an affront

To her status, to all the rules

She has broken and remade.

Mother, she commands,

Stop repainting our fates.

You want me to be a wife

Not a queen, not a gem.

Where then would our

Fellows and conspirators be?

I know, they condemned you,

But we still must pave their way

To Heaven. Our keepers

But also our flock. How could I

Have abandoned them to the bloody?
It is me, not my sculpture, not my

Skin and eyes, but my own self.,

That they call Gloriana.

 

And that is your own self as well

So no more nostalgia, no more

Desire for unknown timelines.

You died for me to breathe.

I have your picture, kept sacred

In my ring to remind me

How easy it still is to fall.

You are not dust as long as

I reach out my hands and

Purge all the depraved,

Empty hearts of our realm.

 

Our, I say, with conviction,

For we never stop colliding.

I carry you through an armada,

A host of swords and swears,

I bury you, I harbor you,

We speak with one painted mouth.

Whiten my face to make it not

Just mine but a blank template

For you to invade, and blur

The distinction between us.

No endearments left for men,

My heart is too full of memory.

______________________________________________________________

Gretchen Meixner has lived in Providence, RI since 2008. She has a degree in English Literature, but also took as many History classes as possible. She is most interested in World War I and II, as well as the English monarchy. Many of her poems are about these topics and specific historical figures. She has a long commute to work in Boston, which fortunately gives her plenty of time to read.

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Marianne Gambaro

Halifax Elegy

I.

Leviathan cruise ships glide

above salt bleached bones and splintered docks, 

revelers deaf to century-old spectral screams.

 

The Mi’kmaq called it Chebucto – “big harbor” –

so deep that even harsh Maritime winters can’t freeze it.

Perfect for cruise ships

and convoys.

 

Those not preoccupied with bingo and buffets may learn

how during The Great War, The War they promised would End All Wars,

a cowardly captain and crew abandoned

a floating bomb causing

an explosion unlike the world had known.

 

December 6, 1917, 7:30 a.m.: The French munitions ship Mont-Blanc left her anchorage at the mouth of the harbor to join a gathering convoy and collided with the Imo, a Norwegian ship bound for New York to collect relief supplies for Belgium. 

 

Not a pane of glass left intact on either side of the harbor

yet an ocean away from an enemy gun.

 

dead: nearly 2,000

homes destroyed: more than 1,600

homes damaged: 12,000

 

II.

More than 500 miles, nearly a century later

a white spruce towers above the Boston Common. 

 

More than 500 miles, nearly a century ago 

they came by train in less than a winter’s day

among the first to arrive,

among the last to leave.

Nurses and doctors salved burns, bandaged wounds

sawed off limbs and excised eyes.

 

limbs amputated: 25

eyes removed: 250

injured treated: more than 9,000

 

Each Christmas the progeny of the maimed and injured

send a majestic evergreen to Boston to honor those 

who tirelessly did what they could to help.

 

 III.

They’re all gone now.

Until a few years ago you could see them 

in nursing homes around Halifax. Some missing an eye.

Others totally blind never again to see 

storms coming in over the sea

or heron gulls slicing through summer skies

or rampant purple lupine bivouacked on June hillsides.

 

Children, settling into their morning school work,

heard the explosion and ran to windows,

imagining fireworks and festivities. Glass shrapnel 

pierced young corneas shattering hopeful visions.

 

IV.

Aye, the harbor was a sight to see in those days.

Supply ships from all over

and troops waitin’ for warships

to take ‘em across the sea to the front.

Some days it looked as though you could walk across the harbor

on all those boats and never wet you boots.

I tried to warn him, about the Mont-Blanc.

A floatin’ bomb she was, with that cargo – 

 

wet and dry picric acid: 300 tons 

TNT: 200 tons

gun cotton: 10 tons 

benzol: 35 tons 

 

right outside his little railway office.

 

Only a few of us knew her cargo,

top secret war stuff. Damned fool mixture

if you ask me.

 

Coleman, his name was. Vincent Coleman.

Kissed the wife and three bairns when he left that morning,

walked the five blocks to his office like any other day. 

So dapper in his suit and high starched collar, 

perfect pompadour, full mustache. 

No doubt pulled his muffler a little tighter against December.

 

I’d seen him through the window

when I was workin’ around the docks,

always at that telegraph key of his.

His boss left as soon as I told ’em.

Coleman stood up to leave

then turned back to that telegraph key 

thinkin’ about those 300 souls aboard 

Passenger Train No. 10, 

the overnight from Saint John

due in Halifax at 8:55 directly in front of that floatin’ bomb.

 

With those little dots and dashes

he saved ’em all:

Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbor 

making for Pier 6 and will explode. 

Guess this will be my last message. 

Good-bye boys.

______________________________________________________________

Marianne Gambaro’s poems have been published in several print and online journals including The Aurorean, Oberon Poetry Magazine, Pirene’s Fountain, Avocet Journal, Snowy Egret and The Naugatuck River Review. Following a career as a journalist and public relations practitioner for nonprofit organizations, she now writes for the sheer love of the word. She is a member of the Florence (MA) Poets Society and serves on the editorial board for Silkworm, Florence Poets’ annual journal. She resides in Western Massachusetts with her talented photographer-husband and three feline muses.

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K.V. Martins

The Final Voyage

I

On his knees in the Torre de Belém, he prayed
for King and protection, gave thanks to the Holy Virgin Mary
for the riches she bestowed on a once obscure nobleman
and for the warmth of the bed he shared with his beloved Catarina.

Following familiar stars, he sailed down the Tagus
bound for the spice rich coasts of the Indies,
his nightly companions, unfurled maps of uncharted waters
where magical beasts rumbled and serpents writhed,
and he listened to sailors’ tales of giant birds
who built cliff nests from cinnamon sticks.

He sailed into Cochin port on the hot breath
of a monsoon wind, the dawn air spiked
with the scent of cinnamon and cloves,
his caravel lying low in the murky waters,
belly full of the gold, gems and velvet
he knew tempted greedy Sultans and Kings.
Arab dhows carried glass seals of spices
wrapped tightly in cloth, fear and hatred in the eyes
of fellow merchants as they watched the ship drop anchor.

II

They came down from the misty mountains and plantations
after the rainy season, father and son cinnamon peelers
who sat side-by-side cross-legged,
cutting and curling cinnamon bark
into the fragrant quills so prized by the Europeans
as medicine or to mask the fetid odour of spoiled meat.

They sat under a jackfruit tree, a tea wallah serving them
and licked cake crumbs from moistened fingers,
a coastal breeze carried the foreign words and shouts
of those working in a nearby storehouse
as the quills were dried and readied to join
a cargo of nutmeg, ginger, and peppercorn,
more valuable than the gold, gems and velvet
offered by the pale-skinned trader.

They watched as the sailors staggered ashore
sea legs unsteady on dry land after months
of plying the ragged coastlines and brothels of Africa.
With a cavalier swagger, the preserve of ship captains,
he passed by father and son
and the red and white stone houses of the wealthy,
set in oases of palm groves and purple bougainvillea,
oyster shell windows, shiny and translucent.

He reached the bazaar
where the colors of the world
mingled East with West,
Cathay silk of gossamer thread,
milky sweet pearls from Arabia,
amber beads, carved ivory and bone,
yellow myrrh and duck eggs laid bare,
Indian trinket sellers and African slaves
bathed in a cold sweat under a beating sun.

III

He was aware that the memory was raw,
that the cinnamon peelers were just two of many
who had witnessed his countryman’s ferocity
decades earlier, when Muslim merchants were
hanging from the rigging of Portuguese ships,
burned alive, the cinnamon market for an empire.

For a time, God was on his side as he searched
for a sea-route to India, for Christians and spices.
Returning as Viceroy of India,
his Catarina never far from his mind,
the cool caress of a pearl in his hand,
imagining the soft curves of her back,
the lilt of her voice on a rain-soft morning,
he thought of little else.

IV

Malaria took him on Christmas Eve, his bones lying in wait
at St. Francis Church for the final voyage home from Cochin.
A string of luminous pearls draped his splendid tomb
and the cinnamon peelers went back to their work.

______________________________________________________________

K.V. Martins was born in Sydney, Australia and now lives in New Zealand. She writes poetry, flash fiction and short stories. A keen photographer, inspiration comes from photos and observations whilst walking. With a BA (Hons) in History, her stories and poetry often have historical themes.

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