Jan/Feb 2015 Poetry Special Feature

The Fugitive Whaler, 1850

by David Mathews

Image courtesty of the British Library's Photostream

The Fugitive Whaler, 1850

For Richard Jones

Nantucket Quakers taught me
how the ocean is a garden
full of harvest, one needs
a harpoon instead of a hoe—
a biblical way of fighting slavery.

But the ocean fights back.
Its rage is older than the flow
of the bloodlines in my veins.
It is cold. Harsh. Brazen.
It has taken my ancestors,
like a monster that hoards treasure.

When I sail, I drape myself
in the vehement lullaby of the waves,
which nature does not hold back.
It helps me make my own true song.
Men must oppose the devil with brave deeds.

My anger has no chains like the ocean.


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