The Slave Ship, originally titled, Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon Coming On, 1840

Friday, January 15, 2021

—a painting by the British artist J. M. W. Turner.

God cut a slit in their souls/   Baptists say
is the gateway to hell—
some black hole defiling their rigid
Rose Madder/
/makes them see the red/   their fascination with violence/
the smoldering red toxic of sunsets
or crimson Rorschach of dead   /&
dying slaves/:   133 declared damaged cargo at £ 30
per head   /& thrown overboard alive/   the blood simple
red of feeding frenzied sharks
following in the wake
of human traffickers   /their rouged visage of guilt
the shame of industrial perfidy &
the corporate history of Europe/   the imperial red
of God Save The Queen   /the uniforms
of the British soldiers/   of the British Empire
/the colored bloody pigment
of the Atlantic slave trade/   the first model
of modern profit margin logistics/:   the space-
stacking of goods/   the emerged standardization &
of cost reduction/   in all the links of the corporate chain/
the Eastman Kodak rust red
ocean-bound stacks of freight containers/   The terror
is in the details   /like the echo of gun-
fire in the silence after the chaos of running feet   /&
the boy-child   /dead/   in the street   /the racist cop/
found not guilty
/like crow-swarm/   pecking dead flesh
from the media-
labeled thug/   from the massacre that persists   /
the in-house justified homicide
in the wake of slave ships/   recalls the typhoon's coming/
before it sweeps the decks   /throw overboard
the dead & dying—never heed their chains
/but ponder only/:

Where is thy market now?

Note: In 1781 the British slave ship Zong sailed on the so-called Middle Passage
from Akra (today's Ghana) to Jamaica. There were 442 slaves on board. 133 were
declared damaged cargo and thrown overboard alive. The slave traders and ship
crew would later say that water shortage was the reason for the jettison. It was a
fact that human freight was insured against loss at sea and drowning, but not
against death by dehydration. They would justify murder as their right to dispose
of their “goods.” While there was a civil trial later, which was supposed to decide
whether people or cargo had been thrown overboard, there was no murder trial.

Note: The italicized fragment at the end of the poem is a paraphrased extract of
J. M. W. Turner's unfinished and unpublished poem “Fallacies of Hope.”

Friday, January 15, 2021