Gow’s Battle Cry

by Magnus Dixon

For Imogen

John Gow, ‘the Orkney Pirate’ (c. 1698-June 11, 1725)

And do we not store salt in our eyelashes
for this? Does dirt not constellate our heels,
all for these unblinking untarnished suns–
this stardust from beyond the earth’s creased edge?

Why do we clench rust-dappled steel in our jaws?
Why is it that we raise sextons to addled retinas?
Why do we chain our chests like beating hearts?
For this, my leather-skinned brine-eyed crew:

To weigh the whale road’s time-hewn sweat.
We reap this harvest of stony corn nibs
and hold our muskets close like yellowed cards–
though this is not gambling but foreseen.

See you not how the keen canvas strains
through dark latitudes, after lumbering hulls?
It is time to web the air with cutlasses
and lighten the Tropic of Cancers’ blue purse.