The Archaeologists / Aye Aye Captain

by John Grey

By Greenberg, Arthur, Photographer (NARA record: 8464446) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administation). Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.



They dug up the skeleton of a boy.
They wept, two thousand years too late.
And here were the remains of a hunchback.
Better for him that he died, they figured.
Life was surely hard for a cripple back then.

And poking through the damp soil
of a further excavation,
was a bevy of bones, a couple this time,
his arm around her pelvis,
their thin white legs entwined.
Two living hearts skipped.

Later they sat inside their tent,
smoked, relived their day’s work.
It’d been years since they were boys
though still they loved to play in dirt.
And neither was a hunchback.
Just your average middle-aged men
with degrees and books in print.
Not a couple surely.
One bewhiskered, the other gray,
both lonely but for the work.

They brought ancient history back to life.
But it was too involved in its own,
to ever thank them for it.


Limpid the sails, too calm the sea,
window sashes shudder at the silence
of the wheel, silhouettes of hanged men
frozen, the scurrying of rats.
Then laughter, lustrous as dreams awakening,
the whispers like the creak of rotting wood,.,
he is captain now.
So on goes the moth-eaten sailor’s cap,
bedraggled uniform and jacket
from the rusty closet below decks.
Fate steps over corpses, around dread.
It climbs the broken steps without regret.
So wind is unfaithful and currents desert
and rope ladders twist like necks,
are unfit to climb.
A man can stand tall and handsome
at the helm, despite his red eyes, whiskers,
and the blood stains on his hands.
He can check the shattered compass,
plot a course that only ever takes him
to where he already is.
“Ambition, meet thirst,”
the first mate’s skeleton chuckles.
Then dead wind drops deader still.
Even the air is his victim.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Midnight Circus, Dryland and Winamop with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Poem and Spoon River Poetry Review.


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