Charred wreck of old white men’s bets—say it with me: America
finds itself in the muck once again. I read about the dinosaur-spined
schooner scuttled in the silt of Mobile, and my body bends
to the language of this loss, all vex and reflex. ‘Least they know, I think
to myself. I think: somewhere a MAGA-minded son of the south reads
about the last slave ship to bring Africans to America, jokes
about a return trip back to Benin. ‘Least we know how this ends—
say it with me: states’ rights, Southern way, Calloo-Callay, no work today.
‘Least we know this is where it stopped, don’t we? My mind is muddied
reading about this cenotaph chocked back from the past, the almost
immediate overtures for research and Reconstruction, and I must
resolve to think to myself, Hey, ‘least we know who did it though,
right? ‘Least they know the dimensions. 86’ x 23’ they measure
with tape, but my blood knows the true size of a ship is displacement,
knows the size of slavery isn’t feet but fear, the beam of generations
forever shackled to the delta, and I’m supposed to celebrate
another dinosaur the dirt coughed up like America isn’t already
a museum of natural history back-braced with the bones
of twenty generations of Clotildas. ‘Least they know Cudjo.
‘Least they know the slavers were caught and never charged.
‘Least we’re used to that a hundred and sixty years past
the trafficking. ‘Least they knew where to look from Foster’s written records.
No surprise here. Isn’t it just like the acquitted to brag and confess their work:
Zimmerman, Wilson, Shelby, Pantaleo, Yanez. ‘Least they know there’s money
in it. Always the profit, even in the water, even in the archaeology, even
in their excitement, even in their excavation. A slave ship sails back and
all they can say is Maybe—even in 2018, that’s just the least they know.
Cameron Barnett holds an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh, where he was poetry editor for Hot Metal Bridge, and co-coordinator of Pitt’s Speakeasy Reading Series. He teaches middle school at Falk Laboratory School, and is an associate poetry editor for Pittsburgh Poetry Review. His first collection, The Drowning Boy's Guide to Water (Autumn House Press) was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award.