A ship, a berth, a stinking bed, thrown in that place to lie.
But no I wished to my sweet lord can this be truly I,
A splitting head, a far-seen keg, a timbered waiving sky.
Strange creaking; wind; and the smell of salt; and far off, the seagulls cry.
In fear I saw a man approach his rolling gait a dance
His face was set in a mocking smirk, legs apart his stance.
“Come-on boy” his voice was hard, “come meet thy capt’n lord
And please him if you value life, or thy back’ll feel the cord”.
I raised in pain, and felt the sway of body left in motion
And tried to find a footing sure, my head in need of lotion
Fear gripped my gut and pain was such my matted hair bore witness
The canvass bag, in which I’d lain, dried blood a mark’ed stiffness
From the hold he dragged me up steep steps of cruelly lurching
And all the way he sneered at me in words of foulest cursing
In day-light then, stood many men, on decks awash with rain
And movement such as up and down bemused my troubled brain.
The ship was huge, but old and grey, the sails patched in places
And about me all were sail-cloth men, some of those with tattooed faces.
Then a massive man in top coat black, with a silver headed cane
Grabbed my hair and demanded me to tell him of my name.
Excuse me master I tried to say, “I’m a bonded ploughman’s lad
And if it pleases you good sir, to return I would be glad”!!
Oh my Lord, a grin he made so evil – I did shrink
Black teeth he had and breath so foul, that of midden it did stink.
“Come cabin boy look yonder at, your home the open sea
You’ll taste the briny; cord; and sail; and mind you pleasure me”!!
Such was my fear – my breaches I did wet
The “pleasure me” seemed more than just a threat.
The seamen laughed and jeered with calls, so greatly was my shame
And truth to say I wept as well – mercy to proclaim.
My Masters money I had lost in drink, with no retrieval
My future now no longer known, gripped by these men of evil.
The Capt’n yelled at a man named Quinn, “make the boy to cope”…
Below, I was lead to the cooking fire – I knew freedom was no hope.
In a foulest room Quinn first made threats, then forced me to my knees
Wrapped his hands around my throat and – menacingly squeezed
While he fumbled at his breaches cord then ripped my bottom bare
I cowered frantic flailing scared in earnest earnest prayer
He turned me like a sheep in heat, and took a hold my rear
So that he could reign as master Ram, my screams did match my fear.
Night time, day time, hell on earth, abused as if a woman
Between Capt’n Chial and Quinn I went – I was no longer human.
Could I say the shame I lived, or how I learnt to hide
In a ship of beasts I hid from men, most times I silent cried.
The pain and shame, ate at my brain, but never did diminish
I tried to will my life to end – so this hell of hells would finish.
My lonely fear and wish for death in those early awful days
Was made so many more times worse by the motion of the waves.
My loss of home, my sickness bad, and the fear of Quinn’s harsh slaps
Each hour I was forced to live for another day perhaps.
The galley fire was my station task to tend and damp with sand
To cook the gruel of porringer sour while we were off the land.
Such hellish things I did then find over many many-a-week
And so I learned to hide myself in places ‘They’d’ not seek
The bilge was one that very few would trespass with intent
For rats were such that despite their bite: safety there it meant.
Or many a day I would climb the nest and drink in Gods own air
And watch that hated Chial below, to kill him I did swear.
The crew were mostly outlawed men and not a one was friend
For each had lost his soul for gold their greed their main intent.
A living hell past day by day in that monstrous evil place
Sealed in that ship of oak and elm, a cork in a beaten space.
The journey south was bad enough with Quinn; owner of my fate
But worse it got as we checked out the hold of row on row of crates.
For weeks it seemed we checked each chain, each necklet and each hob.
And once each day the meal I’d cook for that was still my job.
As time dragged by the heat of day got worse, worse than I could bear
And sailing by that foreign coast to escape I once did dare.
I climbed the side one night alone all set to swim to shore
But I was caught and corded bad for weeks the cuts was sore.
Worse then was when my leg was chained, with a weighted ball of lead
“Now you may jump into the sea” Chail, sneering, laughing said.
The anchor dropped at a place I heard, by name “the Ivory Coast”
Abidjan was the village port where living dead were loaded most.
I watched as shackled naked blacks were led in groups of eight
Down the hold, their leg bound chains foretold their future fate.
After many hours the anchor weighed, the stench was truly great
And I was told to clean the hold, a task I’d truly hate.
At first the black ones spat and kicked as far as chains would let
And cramped it was and steaming hot their bodies mess was set.
My daily task to pump the Jack of the bilge pumps slimy bellows
And issue out the weeviled cakes to those half staved poorly fellows.
But shock was worse when I did learn that women were in there
And they were treated far far worse their bodies almost bare.
The Captain was a maniac the worse for drinking rum
And screaming women most young girls in lust he tortured some
To soon the Captain set our task – to clear the sickly racks.
And daily was our task to take the dead from chains in sacks.
Men’s eyes are such that no one needs to question hate or love
And many men in their hour of need begged vengeance from above.
Over weeks I got to understand some words and their different ways
But sickly death was their constant friend and some their minds had crazed.
When the ship was many leagues from land my chain was loosed then freed.
But I was told that on nearing land – again, I would be keyed.
Jamaica was the ships bound birth where such living would depart
But over half those wretches died from the numbers at the start.