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Poem: Hell’s Gates

 

The smell of burning whale flesh
stings the green hand’s
nostrils bloody,

even aloft
he can’t escape it: smoke-
laden sails he’s been sent to furl,

the taut rigging,
even rivulets of his own sweat
pungent

with such vile odor.
He watches from the footropes,
braced over the yard,

as a mate skims the skin
of whales
from scalding oil,

drops the brittle cracklings
into a cresset. The sparks
glint off dippers

slippery with grease
and blood.
He sees the butchery

on deck, the sickly
glow of the tryworks fires
above the goosepen,

black smoke surging
toward the sky.
Looking up

the short prayer
falls from his lips
into this night of no stars,

no heaven,
suffer no angels
here.

Image Credits: Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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