Under an oppressive sky
two men shaving in an open boat
after a four-thousand mile marathon
soaked, their limbs swollen, unable to lie down
excepting a brief landfall at New Holland,
death’s sour breath blowing them ever westabout.
John Fryer, Bligh’s antagonist
on both voyages, the Bounty fiasco
& the miracle in this very boat,
fingers hollowed cheeks in the clammy heat,
task completed, offers to remove
the thick beard of Bligh’s servant, John Smith.
These exhausted sailors sit off Coupang, Timor,
left behind to guard Bligh’s possessions
after he raised a pennant of distress
then waited, high on duty, with his men,
constipated, dehydrated, tormented,
for formal permission to land.
Now he & sixteen others sip breakfast tea,
guests of surprised Englishmen
sojourning in the Spice Islands.
The two Johns use seawater aftershave
as a whiff of swamp reaches them,
&, shocked by the black sadness that overwhelms him,
Fryer wonders when their turn will come.
Ian C Smith
2 February 2001