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Poem Of The Week: ‘Bone Railroad’ By Adam Lowe
Steve Whitaker, Literary Correspondent
Slave ship interior
The bones of the dead, in Adam Lowe’s languidly aqueous poem, are whited sepulchres. Enjoined as coral in a dark Atlantic of the imagination, they mark a place of veneration, of remembrance for those many Africans transported to the Caribbean or lost to the waters in sinking slave ships, ‘whited’ by the iniquity of enslavement.

Bone Railroad

I will clutch your bones together
into a coral palace at the bottom
of the sea. I will sing hymns

to celebrate you in the vault
built from your ribcage. The stained
glass I will blow from your dreams.

Who cast you down here like
a bone railroad from Africa’s west
coast to the Americas, the Caribbean?

Whales will worship you.
I will come down and sit upon
your coral throne, and remember

who your were. I will unearth
your stories, find the ships that
discarded you, and sink them all.


Adam Lowe
Lowe’s ‘shrine’ is celebrant; it is made of metaphors whose verisimilitude – the ‘vault’ of ribcage, the stained glass rendered in a prism of dream – make a nave of the skeletal. But here, too, is the suggestion of incarceration; the rafters of rib might be the bars of a cell.

And we are reminded of the ships themselves. The perception of human beings as Untermensch makes hideous sense of contemporary diagrammatic designs of slave ship interiors: people as organic commodities, cloistered like the dead – many soon would be - in coffin-sized wooden spaces for transport, ill-fed and watered for the long ocean crossing.

The Nazis were meticulous documenters of numbers and figures; it incriminated them to some extent. And the ‘bone railroad’ of the sea lanes to the Americas recall, also, the claustrophobic trains bound for Treblinka and Belsen.





Also by Steve Whitaker...
Beyond the Hellespont: Great Cities Through Travellers' Eyes
So Many Elsewheres - Home On The Move: Two Poems Go On A Journey
Poem Of The Week: 'Jovo' By Igor Klikovac
Return Of The Troubadour: Simon Armitage At The Ilkley Literature Festival
Poem Of The Week: ‘The Shadow Of Us’ By Rowan Righelato
Lowe’s anger speaks of shared heritage, and the dead do not rest easy.

It is well that the U Boat of his imagination should torpedo the whole vile edifice of enslavement and brutality in a final act of retribution.

His compulsion to remember, his re-telling of their story depends upon it.

‘Bone Railroad’ is taken from Any Change? Poetry in a Hostile Environment, a pamphlet funded by the Forward Arts Foundation

Poem Of The Week: ‘Bone Railroad’ By Adam Lowe, 4th March 2019, 9:41 AM