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Friday, July 05, 2019


by Bill Sullivan

“Spirit, help me to see
their broken stories…”
                                                                   The Wound in the Water, libretto by Euan Tait.

And the oceans, seas and rivers bled, then and now.


So many unshackled black bodies,
hauled topside, dragged to the rail like sacks
of trash, worthless cargo when breathless or ill.
Unshrouded, unblessed, tossed to the sharks.

Lost: your freedom, your fields, family, friends,
songs and dances, your chanted village score,
your matching parts. Separated and silenced
you descend to the unknown ocean floor.

Now a coyote says, “This far and no further;
A raft is there by the Rio Bravo.” Death threats,
and poverty marched the family north to the churning
spring waters, hoping to elude the border’s net.

“We will not be separated, will stay a family,”
Mid river, the rapids sank the raft, the dream.
Four will never know the opposite shore. Lost—
father, daughter child, and infant, swept downstream.

The Mediterranean Sea, the reddest of borders,
graveyard for countless non-Europeans fleeing torture
and war.  First an embrace from the host, then rejection.
For a time, heroic rescues at sea, then cessation.

Thank the Turkish soldier who kindly retrieves
the lifeless body from Bodrum’s shore, who cradles
Aylan, in his arms, a three-year-old Syrian Kurd. Mother,
sister lost at sea; only the broken father left to grieve.

Who knows who first pressed the knife’s tip in, opened
the wound? But slave trader, captain and merchant pushed
it deeper.  And despots, dealers, war lords, smugglers twisted
it more than a turn or two—then, hope and story severed.

If you don’t turn your head, you will see children confined,
crying out for their parents, drowning in a sea of abuse,
but also gaze at the perp’s or the collaborator’s eyes,
black and blank, a passageway to the dying soul’s cries.

The spirit, the sea—eternal and universal; every creature
a part of the tale.  The sea, the womb; life’s origins.
Joined, at birth, our ties soon severed by Mammon’s legions.
Exiles and lords, cast apart, songless in a wounded sea.

Who in that sea will sing the first note of the song
that sparks the afflicted, that turns the cruel and greedy,
that invites every voice to join, that note by note stops
the bleeding, purifies the water, rewrites the wrongs?

Bill Sullivan taught English and American Studies at Keene State College. He co-authored two studies of twentieth century poetry, co-directed two documentaries.  His poems have appeared in a number of print and online publications.  His Loon Lore: In Poetry and Prose was published by Grove Street Books in 2015. He retired to Westerly, RI and turns to the ocean and gardens when times turn bleak.