Tragedy and rebellion at sea

File:Rylov Blue Expanse.jpg
‘Blue expanse’ by Arkady Rylov (1870–1939)

From their aerial realm

what tragedies have they seen?

Migrating feathered beings,

so free above the ocean.


A two-masted schooner,

sails flying freely in the wind,

holds captives, chained, taunted,

ripped from their homelands.


Fire, screams, blood, garbage,

excrement sprays overboard

Guns boom, acrid smells reek,

from the waters below.


Desperate souls leap

to waiting sharks,

while others remain to rot and waste,

three steps away from death.


And aghast, I sit centuries away,

reading about these horrors,

profound depths of cruelty and suffering,

knowing I must ‘listen’.


War, mayhem, cruelty

pierces souls and flesh,

sending barbed spears

to many generations beyond.

File:La Amistad (ship).jpg
Painting of the sailing vessel La Amistad off  Long Island, New York, on 26 August 1839, when slave captives took over the ship.  Public Domain, author unknown.

Splitting timbers,

Splintered lives,

Shrieks,  gun blasts,

Heat so profound.

Amistad embers burning

shooting aerial sparks,

flashing memories,

murmuring shame.

Flickers of

human greatness,

and despair.

These thoughts about slave ship voyages and rebellions emerged from a book that I am still reading–by award-winning Canadian author, Lawrence Hill:  The Book of Negroes (also titled: Someone Knows my Name).  The novel traces the life of a young African girl who is kidnapped in 18th century Africa, survives a slave ship passage across the Atlantic and is sold as a slave in South Carolina.  The cruelties portrayed are very hard to read about, but I stick with it in honor of those who had to endure it in real life.  The dignity and goodness of the main character, Aminata Diallo, are also compelling.

The spark that helped me get this post rolling was the snow geese painting offered by Jane Dougherty as poetry prompt #34.  She also offered prompt words, which I sampled in the first poem and fully used in the second: Aerial, Profound, Murmur, Splintering, Spark.

©2016, All rights reserved by

11 thoughts on “Tragedy and rebellion at sea

  1. Great take on the prompt. We recently watched the new “Roots” miniseries, and I had many of the same thoughts.
    The Amistad case is interesting because it took place when importation of slaves was illegal (after 1808), but slavery was still legal. Former President John Q. Adams defended the Africans.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks you Merril. Thanks for the expansion of the Amistad story. I touched on it because there was a rebellion on the ship in Lawrence Hill’s book. Unfortunately the captives did not manage to take over the ship.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A brilliantly powerful poem, Janice. From the painting I imagined it would be about the seagulls, their flight but no, you have turned my expectations around to create this vivid and immediate poem about such a horrific event. Like you I sometimes read books which are almost too dreadful to comprehend but I too feel I must honour those killed and read on.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s