Sea Burial

“We came to give John Perry a Burial…”
           –Logbook, 8/23/1902, Charles W. Morgan

“We sold John Perry personely effect at auction for $10.00…”
           –Logbook, in margin, 8/27/1902 Charles W. Morgan

Brought low by the scythe
that takes us all,
Perry’s corpse stitched in canvas
lies before us, the Captain
intoning prayers
of life, of resurrection.
But Perry’s body won’t rise,
not now, weighted
with brick, nor when Christ
returns, for how can a body
ascend from the fluidness
of fathoms?

The seabed is a grave
unmarked and unmourned,
where above it cruel currents
persist in their unceasing journey
shoreward, heedless
of the death of a man,
or whale.

So when the mate opened
Perry’s sea chest
later that week in the fos’cle,
we all bid our part–
on the tin plate, a few letters,
hat, some trousers, and the chest
itself sold off,

for we follow the prow
of this vessel forward, leave John
to the fishes and the sea worms,
our lot being to hunt, our attention
once again turned toward
the whales we raise.


Artwork © Cesar Valtierra

Artwork © Cesar Valtierra


Joanie DiMartino has work published in many literary journals and anthologies, including Modern Haiku, Alimentum, Calyx, and Circe’s Lament: An Anthology of Wild Women. She is the author of two collections of poetry, Licking the Spoon and Strange Girls, and is completing her third manuscript, Wood to Skin, about the 19th-century whaling industry, for which she was a 38th Voyager on the Charles W. Morgan. Her work was most recently on display at the Hygienic Art Gallery in New London, CT, where she performed poetry interspersed with whale song as part of the Gaia’s Lament: Art Cry environmental awareness exhibit. DiMartino is the executive director of the Smith-Harris House in Niantic, CT, and lives in Mystic, CT with her family and two very literary cats.

Cesar Valtierra is a graphic designer from El Paso, TX and the creator of the webcomic, Balazo.