Excerpts From
Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder & Marine Life
A Poem Of Motherhood in the Sea in the Voice of
Jacques Cousteau

I don’t know why they say “you have a baby.” The baby has you.
                                 -- Gallagher

Mother octopus starves
in living sea

Rippling her tentacles flush
to aqua vent floor
she holds her inky breath
broods in silence
beneath her babies

They dangle in clusters
on a muted peak of cave
blowsy honeycombs
a queen mother’s hidden jewels
love encrusted
oyster stalactites

Each egg
a tiny speck
lights shimmers with opal fire
They bob and float
near deep-vent heat
drift and jiggle weigh less than a carat
Their throb in tightening skins
spawn still forming
life aglow

The eggs
their quivering
these miniscule lives
mean so very much to her
she fails to leave
her shadowy cave
sacrifices her shrimp dinner
for more than a month

to the soft murmur of my sculling
faint sloshes through sea
my flippers make
to strains of lucid ambience
deep-bellied aquatic tones
deep-sea lullabies
she strokes her jellied infant purse
rocks and soothes her babies
their microscopic hearts

This she does
until the egg sacs tremble
until fruitfulness bursts
until her miniature
inhale a new water 

Their wee feral
tentacles unfold
flex and wriggle out
jet them glorious
toward unbroken sun
the silk and ripple
of sea surface 

Fly little octopi
Fly wild and free

And if you come back

see your tender mother
her rich color of oranges
of ruddy sand
She broods in silence
until your siblings hatch

until she tows her fading mass
to the rear of her cave

until her siphoned breath
softens and shallows

Until she sees shadows
in the deep

until she shuts
a new mother’s briny eyes

until her cycle of sea life
coils and ends

until she gives up the ghost.

In memory of the lives unearthed at the African Burial Ground, New York City,1991

--Lower Manhattan, 1712

Under low-hanging trees
near lips of Collect Pond,
the ritual took place:
the carrying and wrapping
of the body, the placing
of shining bronze coins on the eyes,
the internment in sacred space.
The dark, muscled body,
like earth, a pillar,
glean of the Sankofa bird.
The mourners believed
the sage creature flew overhead,
winged toward Africa,
a full-bellied moon
while looking backward, a
perfect, tiny egg in its mouth.
The egg, content and shell,
trembles, cries:

                   Se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenki
                  Se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenki
                      It is not taboo to go back
                      and fetch what you forgot.
                      It is not taboo to go back
                      and fetch what you forgot.
And perhaps this limpid morning
mourners went back and fetched,
prayed and threaded
work-blistered hands
into each others
and danced a hallowed ring shout,
their weariness hunched
low to the ground,
their hard flat feet
pounding earth,
sting of coffle,
cat-o-nine tail
into dust. They move
counterclockwise in tight circles,
bend their knees, moan
and billow their spines,
make guttural sounds.

A unique bay mourning makes,
the selection, unwrapping
and telling of memory as
blue-threaded palms, a thick stick,
are beat against
the soft, dry earth,
stories of pitted bones in it
becoming drumskin,
a chant, lifeblood that washes
Collect Pond gleaming,
until this worn, compressed father
of tilted shoulder, torn ligament,
kind and loving past once future,
is swaddled in white linen,
placed into pine
and lowered
into ground.

Another cry pierces
tender night, candlelight
fills the jeweled ears of
both mourner and dead,
copper shroud pins among them,
cowrie, shallow white shell,
delicate horn
button to decorate a fathers grave,
an offering like water and fruit,
the caw of the Sankofa bird.

the bird warns mourners,
the fertile egg in its mouth,
us, the rememberers
to cry loud and spare not,
never forget story.
these bones and earth.


Karen S. Williams All Rights Reserved,
Previously Published in the Gathering Ground Anthology