The Oldest Lie

Slaving captains...sometimes tried to avoid arrest by a mass drowning of every slave in the cargo.
Daniel P. Mannix, Black Cargoes

Nothing remotely bordering truth to be said for the ones held deep in the hold
hauled up the rotting ship stairs, each dripping face, hand, knee, elbow, ass,
all clambering, scratching, clawing at the yellow gunwales, until the critical mass
of those already thrown overboard pulled them too, still chained, so bold
in their descent, gleaming, hell-bent, their bubbled breaths still held,
past bull sharks, groupers, blue and black, mahi mahi, dolphin fish, never schooled
for such as this, yoked chum, a village wriggling, spiraling down, en masse,
to land, riprap, a bracelet of bodies, a beaded living necklace.

The oldest lie would say they died free, gurgling, welcoming death, the hulled
shell above them a new covenant ark, that they rose, walked smiling to Atlantis,
bathed in the jeweled waters of Avalon. They did not. They died, truly, each carcass
chewed and flayed. Still, just this morning, in the blue and black mist that lies above the cold,
I saw them walking, schoolchildren alighting from the yellow ships of their buses,
each with a hand held freely to another, each with another hand to hold.

8 years 4 months ago
I am reminded of the movie, "Amistad." 50 slaves were thrown overboard, all chained together and I can't help but wonder if that movie inspired John to write the above poem. I like the poem. Sally K.
8 years 4 months ago
John Hodgen's line: "A bracelet of bodies, a beaded living necklace" embodies everything I strive for in poetry - simplicity, beauty, and power. His entire poem evokes such a gut reaction from me as a reader that I had to get up and go walk around outside for awhile after reading it. I hope he's getting the recognition he deserves. And I hope to one day be even somewhat close to his level. In short: WOW! You rock, John! Thank you!

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

“To the Bone,” which recently premiered on Netflix, tells the story of 20-year-old Ellen (Lily Collins), who is living with anorexia nervosa.
Karen RossJuly 21, 2017
The distinction between the disciplines of theological work and how these function in our common life is necessary.
What is it about habits and cassocks that capture the imagination of even secular audiences?
Ashley McKinlessJuly 21, 2017
Why Ron Hansen will never read the Gospels the same.
Ron HansenJuly 20, 2017