Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Friday, March 10, 2017

Underwater History

for Don Parkerson

They're there, our oceanic blunders.
Monitor and Merrimack. Spanish galleons.
And our depravities: slave ships.

Submarines like the Thrusher
could not cope with fathoms.

Weed and coral enhance remaining
shapes. A crucifix grows ocean hair.
A doubloon swells into a rock,
and a captain's iced skull lectures to
a school of fish. Diving down,

the historian cannot afford to haul
a text. Theories don't hold oxygen. He
monitors (and merrimacks) his every
breath like a meditating monk.

What comes clear in obscure depths
is the sluggishness of history,
the persistence with which events
get devoured: how a ship only gradually
slips off the reef to ultimate depths;
how accoutrements of empire
dissolve like common soda.

Floating there, the burden of breath
on his back in steel tanks, the historian
sees small sharks swim through
portholes of a destroyer.  The broadsides
of history went unheard here. Ocean,
imbued with oblivion's appetite,
accepted all defeated ships,
all wars and atrocities, settled or not.


hans ostrom 2017
Post a Comment