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Clade Song 10

BLACKBEARD ISLAND

i was teaching at Coastal Georgia Community College
my first teaching gig ever, in Brunswick, GA

one of my students, Jim, took a liking to me
and myself very much to him—he was a bit older

and didn’t need the classes—he was studying
to be a writer---i loved his poem about the Low Country

he came from a long line of seamen and shrimpers
we ended a semester one Spring, and he offered

to take me out on a small boat—down the Intracoastal Waterway
we saw alligators, a manatee, many snakes—we looked for blue whales

he took me to a nook of this swamp path and told me
the story of the slaves who hand dug this passage

it was horrifying to think of—malaria, whips, dying
from malnutrition and hard labor in that predator marsh

i wanted to hit a shore and find sand dollars and shells
Jim took me to Blackbeard Island, which, at the time, was

a private nature preserve—he was gonna get close
and let me swim to the shore to collect my treasures

he informed me that the rangers circle the island on ATV’s
so, if i see one of those, i should run like hell and swim

back to the skiff so that i would not get arrested
for trespassing on pirate island—i was younger then

still not afraid of any kind of “police”—Jim dropped anchor
and i tied some bags to my waist and swam towards

Blackbeard’s treasure—i collected a lot of live
sand dollars—a few were sun-bleached—I grabbed many

shell specimens—then, I saw the two ATV’s
down the shore and ran to the sea and started swimming

i could not hear him, but i saw, while i was chopping away
Jim standing up in the boat (he told me never to do that)

screaming and waving his arms—he was telling me to go back to the shore
i swam to Jim’s boat, with bags of shells and sand dollars

tied around my waist—he pulled me into the boat so forcefully
that it hurt us both—and then i saw them thrashing and threshing

about—an entire school of tiger sharks—i looked down and
checked my parts. we both raided the beer-cooler and went back

up the waterway. i never saw Jim again—he was working on a book
called Remember The Trytons—that was one of my only memorable

sea adventures—it was my only sea adventure. i brought those
dollars home—put them on a windowsill—they stank up

the whole place for a week. i had no idea what i was doing
escaping Blackbeard island and tiger sharks

there is one shell i have, from that day, and it’s a perfect nautilus,
and it rests in the interlaced palms of a Buddha

statue on its own shelf—karma, sharks, and navigation: fused
running down a shore with my sides rattling with fossils

i wish i could be this scared again
like the sharks deciding or not to eat one another

or me for the first time—
Jim, if you pick me up, I will buy all of the beer and ice

so much so that we empty the cooler
well before the ice can melt or the sharks catch up

 

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Joe Milford is a professor of English at U of Charleston, WV and at the University of West Georgia. He has two collections of poetry, CRACKED ALTIMETER and TATTERED SCROLLS AND POSTULATES, VOL. I. He is the editor of RASPUTIN: A POETRY THREAD (online journal).He currently resides one block away from the Chattahoochee River in beautiful Alabama.