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Exquisite Corpse
Issue 8A Journal of Letters and Life

The Log of Christopher Columbus
by Tony Barnstone
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History begins for us with murder and enslavement, not with discovery. No, we are not Indians, but we are men of their world. The blood means nothing; the spirit, the ghost of the land moves in the blood, moves the blood. It is we who ran to the shore naked, we who cried, "Heavenly Man!"
- William Carlos Williams.

All night I sail the polished air
All night I sail the polished air of sleep. Rocking, portholes shut tight,
the body's hulk leaks unaware and trails my spirit through black light.
The territory of my dream is liquid cities, peopled seas
with day a fading wake downstream. I hunt for spice and gold to please
the avaricious King and Queen of Catholic warfare. But not
tonight. Tonight I sail unseen worlds only for myself. I'm caught
in surfaces by day. Asleep on the black waters, I am the deep.
               August 3, 1492
The Devil drives me crazy
The Devil drives me crazy, some say, since I claim the east is west.
They say the unknown west is death, the undiscovered country from
whose grave no traveler returns. They say the sea's a tabletop
and I'll sail off the edge and drop through blank sky, but this planet turns
and the blue earth is a bright ball that spins through spheres. They are land mice
who seek their nests, not paradise. Wind rattles canvas and I fall
through space with my red wings unfurled, and sail into the unseen world.
               September 1, 1492
This day we lose all sight of land
This day we lose all sight of land and many sailors sigh and weep
for fear of sinking in the deep like ocean seeds. My crew unmanned,
I lie and comfort them with great visions of land and riches nearby.
To float up hope and drown fears I undercount the leagues we make.
Not long past dawn I see blue flame snake down the sky and bite the sea
so near the ships my men think we are cursed. Perhaps we are. I claim
I've seen stars fall so close that fire scorched me. Again I am a liar.
               September 9-15, 1492

When the world closes like a hatch
When the world closes like a hatch I navigate my sheets, at once
the fisherman and the quick catch hooked on a deep fish-line. I hunt
the island of the flaming people, the island of black rain, the living
dust men, the land of skinless people. But night refracts the mind, and diving
through marble whitecaps and hulks buried in sludge, I wade through fleshy waves,
through skin and pores, until the worried syntax of consciousness decays.
The body's walls erode. When day breaks through, I drown and leak away.
               September 16, 1492
So beautiful it makes me shiver
So beautiful it makes me shiver. Today it tastes like April in
Andalucía, with sweet wind, seas as calm and smooth as the river
through Sevilla. We only lack the call of nightingales. We've seen
a weed resembling stargrass, green-yellow, with fruit, long shoots. Held back
by its green fingers, at full sail we crawl, but seaweed proves that land
is near. It must. On grass waves, fanned by winds of indolence, we fail.
We rest in copper foam at dusk as beauty eats our hopes like rust.
               September 16-18, 1492
The sailors caught some flying fish
The sailors caught some flying fish, a silver something we can feed
our empty bellies. A salt dish to stuff those mouths that say this weed
we're sailing through like tangled hair will grasp our ships with rotting hands
of the drowned. Mariners' eyes stare from watery dreams, caked with sands.
All night it twines through us, this floating fear, so thick. Perhaps we'll wake
some morning like a fishing boat glued fast into a frozen lake.
This terror, fishing every breath, hooks us and draws us down beneath.
               September 20, 1492
I'm having trouble with the crew
I'm having trouble with the crew despite the signs of land our eyes
have seen, revealed by God. They view me as a madman made of lies
and wild ambitions, foreigner among them. Who would care if I
fell in the sea, a mariner who tripped while measuring the sky
to find our course? It's suicide they say to sail right off the edge
of maps and world and sanity. The men I trust are few. They hedge
and hem, but would they mutiny and captainless sail back alive?
               September 24, 1492

At ten o'clock at night I thought I saw a light
At ten o'clock at night I thought I saw a light off to the west,
just like a small wax candle left bobbing on the waters. I caught
my breath at last, gasped unaware how long I'd gone forgetting to
breathe in and taste the sweet new air of a new world. In the black-blue
ocean of night where memories and ghosts appear I didn't trust
my senses, eager as I was, and called the men to watch while seas
of hope surged in my blood and night collapsed around that floating light.
               October 11, 1492

At dawn I see nude creatures
At dawn I see nude creatures and we go ashore, well-armed, unfurl
the royal banner, pierce the sand with flags and claim this land. A girl,
as naked as her mother bore her, watches us without a trace
of shame. Others, perhaps two score, welcome us there, each large-eyed face
smiling, pure and guileless as we perhaps were once before the fall.
The old ones must be in their graves, for all are young and beautiful,
bodies painted, manner friendly. I think that they will make good slaves.
               October 12, 1492

Such well-built people, handsome all
Such well-built people, handsome all, their eyes so large. Not at all black,
they look like sunburned peasants, tall and well-proportioned. Down the back
their hair hangs long and straight like horse hair, though cut short above the eye-
brows. Conquer them with love, not force, since they have only spears, so I
advise. As Christians they will serve us well to tame this land and seek
out gold. I bribe them with glass beads, show one my sword, and make him shriek
--he grabs it by the blade. He bleeds like Christ and is reborn a slave.
               October 12, 1492

On the next island people came to shore
On the next island people came to shore and shouted praise while motion-
ing toward Heaven. And in God's name I took them from their homes. Devotion
wilted on their faces when they saw their green island dip below
the blue horizon's curve. Each day I question them about the gold
piercing their noses. Gold, that's what we want from them, not worship. Fish-
eyed with fear they watch as we strut about. What do these strange gods wish?
We can conquer them, if we like, with fifty men in a quick strike.
               October 13-16, 1492

The natives say there are some places
The natives say there are some places where canibales live who feast
on men, behead them, drink like beasts at the bloody spout, their wild faces
with just one eye and snouts of dogs. They slice your genitals off clean-
a raw delicacy--and steam them, serve them rare, or feed like hogs
at your red corpse. Some natives fled from us at first. We looked like wild men.
But now they welcome us like children. Sunset spills like the wine Christ bled
while one girl lets me taste her meat. I kneel before her flesh and eat.
               October 21, 1492

Which land is this?
Which land is this? The Indian islands perhaps? Where is Cathay?
I ask which Maharaj or Khan rules this green place, but what they say
is hard to grasp. I think Japan and Cuba are one island, rich
in gold and spices, and there is an island called Bohío on which
scarred cannibals eat men. That land I think is China. I understand
the beauty--mountains piercing sky sharp as points of diamonds--but I
just guess Arawaks are the same as Hindus, and give them their name.
               October 24-30, November 26

Despite the Inquisition, we are civilized

Despite the Inquisition, we are civilized and sail to meet
and conquer the unknown. The sea stretches between us, but we'll greet
the Khan with gifts and Christ. These men of India are savages,
they don't know war or books. But then, their calm dark faces seem no less
intelligent than my own crew. Their naked beauty shames our clothes
and one has let me spend the blue nights in her arms. She doesn't know
it is a sin. I stick my spur inside but cannot fathom her.
               November 15, 1492
Another island, but with not one soul to greet us
Another island, but with not one soul to greet us. All have fled.
Just empty huts like still lives caught in painted time. Later, we shed
our fears and walk enchanted through green groves of trees, with countless fruits
I cannot name. I climb up to a cool sweetwater lake, my suit
of armor like some brilliant rocks piled on the shore, and my long gun
just a tree branch while I swim. Vulture in Paradise. Blotting the sun,
flocks of parrots soar, but I drop to earth. Then dress myself in culture.
               November 4-23, 1492

I felt secure from rocks and shoals
I felt secure from rocks and shoals and around midnight went to sleep.
The sailor at the helm stole a few winks since the sea seemed deep
and calm as water in a bowl. The whole crew slept and left a boy
alone to steer. The stars like coals went dead. We drifted like a toy
boat swept through coral reefs of dream, and ran aground so quietly
that only I woke up. A scream of timbers splintering and sea
poured in, stranding us on the bank. We fought the sea all night--then sank.
               December 25, 1492
Two leaking caravels remain
Two leaking caravels remain, the Pinta and the Niña. I'm
running low on provisions, time and luck. We are too many. With pain,
I ask some men to stay here. We've begun a tower and a moat--
our fortress--tried to make each boat seaworthy. Very soon we'll leave.
We've shown the native King what force a cannon and a musket wreaks.
He welcomes us with jewels and speaks of friendship, but the best course
is strength. I say we'll come next year, sail off and watch them disappear.
               December 26, 1492
The sailors caught some tortoises
The sailors caught some tortoises that came ashore to lay their eggs.
They are large wooden shields with legs the green of seaweed. What a mess
to slaughter. Now I sight three monstrous sirens watching us with dull
faces. They're not as beautiful as painters make them, not tonight.
I go below alone and drift, upset and thinking of the shaman
who told me of a land of women. I dream of sighting it and kiss--
ing sand with my ship's prow. The ships leak home through seas of breasts and lips.
               January 9-16, 1493
Like swimming to the underside
Like swimming to the underside of the dark brain and surfacing
in Paradise, like one who dies, blue eyes congealed, then wakes to sing,
tonight I dive below the seas in filmy dreams of starfish con-
stellations. Sea anemones shiver like the fine inner bones
of the ear's conch shell. Currents pull the hair electric out to points,
and I float deep till I am all--master, slave, the tide of what's going.
I run to shore naked and scream as my green world bursts like a dream.
               January 20, 1493

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