Slave Ship by Herbert Plummer

My buddy says she’s easy so I say fine, a date. We go to this little spot in the North End, some joint called the Equal Exchange Cafe on Causeway, then hop on the T to the Museum of Fine Arts, joking & poking at each other, working my charm, trying to find some common ground & get comfortable there, like kicking your feet up on the table & cracking a beer after a run. Anyway I’m trying to get this girl in my bed, but she’s sophisticated, she’s smart, she’s picking my brain, trying to figure out things. We saunter around the museum, my hands in my pockets, itching to get a drink, get out of there for god’s sake. But I know about art. I took a couple classes, my brother was a painter, you get the picture. She settles on this one by a guy named J. M. W. Turner, called “Slave Ship.” So I stand next to her & stare, right into the painting (that’s the way you do it, you get inside it), at the sun, glorious & on fire, dropping into the sea like a whiskey shot into a full beer, erupting in a volcano of colors behind the ship, colliding in a majestic chiaroscuro. I hold my gaze on the boat thrashing into a wonderful blue, an impossible blue, a pale, electric indigo, severed by a mustard-gold horizon. I say “Beautiful” & she looks at me & says “Look closer” so I do & I see— I see— bodies floating in violent waves, hands & feet still shackled, protruding from the water smeared with fresh blood, seagulls diving into the frenzy, the ship’s masts so thin they look like scars on raw flesh, & I see the rest of the title, Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying — Typhoon Coming On, & she looks at me strongly, deliberately, & I see tears forming in the whites of her dark eyes.

Herbert Plummer did his undergraduate studies at King’s College in Pennsylvania, where he was an editor of The Scop and read poetry over the air for the school’s radio station, WRKC. He earned an M.A. in British & American Literature from Hunter College, writing his thesis on aesthetics of war in Yusef Komunyakaa’s poetry. He has taken several poetry workshops in the NYC area with poets like Jacob Miller and Jenny Xie. He currently works for Columbia University Press, where he manages subscriptions to research databases, including the Granger’s World of Poetry.