portion of the artwork for Sean Farragher's poem

Narratives of New Netherland
Sean Farragher, 1988

From the Journal of John Colman,
Mate on Dutch Ship Little Fox,
Murdered by His Crew in 1611


          We sailed from Amsterdam in April
          climbed out from the weather,
          hung skulls from the yardam
          dragged witches to star maps under keel



SHIP LOGS:

December 6, 1611
John Colman with four men sent to sound the river four leagues from us. The night came on and it began to snow. It grew so dark that those sent out to search the shallow shore could not find the ship that night. They labored with the oars, and as they came back they were set upon by two canoes, the one having twelve, the other fourteen men. One man, John Colman, slain with an arrow in his throat.


JOHN COLMAN’S JOURNAL:

December 1611
The flood came
We entered the North River
channel in morning, rode still.
The snow full.

We hugged the rocks,
and the bared cliffs in half sun
shone silver green

I was shot
when I stood at the cliff
overhanging with oak,
a second of laughter—
I was left for dead
dropping with round shot in my thigh
between the cliff and the river

I woke in the snow,
my leg bent under my back,
my fall broken by oak.

I froze, washed with blood.
Brown leaves in mottled ice
shuffled under thighs,
snow mist in light,
I felt murder.

Pulled into gray-red rocks,
inside the ragged cliffs,
faces in portrait

I ran in dream with wife in Leyden
My child nine,
punches dirt with sword like sticks,
squats in the mud
pulls pebbles from sea shells,
lifts them gently to the decks of leaf boats,
plunging into gutter seas.


THE SECOND DAY

The savages told how long I had lunged at their hearts,
my face puffed, lips blue.
Like a mad dog I was rolled on a litter,
bound with hide, lifted to the cliff face above
My boots struck the rock
I spun like glass stuck in the sun
I was left by my crew
My fall broken
Brown-eyed savage held me like a lover;
his eyes left me feared and broken

At their camp, I was given a woman to watch my heart,
she fed me meat chewed soft
placed inside my mouth in a kiss.
Her string black hair well oiled,
the perfume of bear’s fat.
Her milk fingers wet my lips
I drank from her breasts.
My teeth scratched her nipple,
until her mouth opened
not breathing ’til I sucked,
her soft belly held me ’til I slept.


2 November 1581.1611
John Colman Swims the Great River


When I was a child I saw murder.
There was blood on the stones
that leaked through the streets
into a great flood. I felt waves
and I wanted to die and fail.

I could not let my life fall
down and become one
of those awkward strangers
hanging about the shore
and muddy streets
for an axe to strike off
the head of my mother
as she watched the waters
of the great river quit.

It was a fever. Mother had
died five years past in Delft.
The savages covered me.
I saw the face of murder.

I remember how he was struck
down by a rock. He would die
laughing and I would live.

I did not drown.
Stuck to the slime
caught in the muddy noose,
I was buried in the earth
when I was shaken by furious storm.

Day Two

The tempest struck rock sand they moved.

They shifted as I shifted
and I wished for a brief second
that rocks of littoral of this flooded river
drove out all the sea demons
and bring us back home safe.
I know when I drink
how anyone is safe if they
do wish their own end
before they are struck
with shot, or the axmen
or the executioner shows
fate to the end may you wish
other oaths to keep you safe
at least until your teeth are gone.
If I had died, how would
I have watched Ska Nee
give birth? She had entered
before my enlistments,
Great River had swallowed up,
and I would never join the circle
where wise men talked with their
hands and hearts more than words.

I understood it all every flood
drowns the man who swims
the passage from the isle
across to the tall red stones
shimmer as antimony. My leg healed.

My arms stretched from the sails
behind to the ones in front.
I get stronger. She who heals stirs
at my back and loins with her fat
rubbed hands and catches my shiver.

She works my legs. She makes me move
as she leads me out of death. When my
flesh blackened and I had fever and shrieked
to other savage gods my denial. Curses shifted
underneath the river of hands. The rain pounded
my head slowed my stroke. Caught by the cold water,
I made me tight and then when the mist rose
from the fire. Fish will be boiled but I entered
the brook and soon it was hot and the heat slowed breath.

The woman moved her breasts
to my mouth slowly, and holding
my jaw she feeds me that white blue
broth. I am eager. She knows that I
cannot exist with civil people.


I get stronger every day. Red rolling
fire branded clouds before sunrise drifted
against the back of my hands
take them into my lives but I didnít.
I made it to the broken rocks and lifted
my sore shoulders up to drape my body
on the red moss. One small beetle wore
his half shell turned over and drifted I
realized and found the flat rocks rose
above the stumps of a forest of drowned trees.
I rushed the shore. I couldn’t stop. Waves
pushed at my head. I left Bristol. I left the skin
of the streets there. I left my wife wondering
if she would jump up when she heard my steps
up the path close to the smoke house where
we cured the bacon her father fattened.
Stones were thrown. The wake of the ripples
caught my hands and I was frozen in the water

Follows missing pages to the tale kept by his descendant Simon Colman
and published in London in 1767



15 Fragments of a Conversation
Tuesday, 24 February 1643
John Colman.Edward Wyman.Ska Nee


I speak to myself
my mind is dry
old waters raise my fall;
final plunge in empty lake

2.
Within the race of our Great River
black eyes in gray faces
creep upon the water.

3.
My land was full
violence, dark and random.
Death was serious
not romantic chance.

4.
I love Ska Nee, as you knew her.
Our birth, a simple calculus;
the digestion of our hands complete
with sly acrobatic of legs by legs

5.
There were harmonies
in Ska Nee, in the roseate dress of river;
fluted wings beside throat of waves
What kiss have we discovered
with our marriage at her spine
She was mother to mother
when our feet fell in air
and let to swing bashful
and blissfully solemn.

6.
Is it simple to walk out the river past the bridge?
We rise without flight to peel gilt from pearl,
each layer lost to reveal that precipitous grit.
I am the viper of charm
in the gleam of Ska Nee’s gig.
We settle down upon loam
with the buttery ferns for copulation.

7.
Let us inside, among the shad
the roe, our cannibal, future meat,
our gracious age abandoned.

8.
The tides tumble over fingertips.
At midnight we shall be bare
in Ska Nee’s undulation.
Our figures gasp out of bounds.
Runners stand still.
The flat earth has won,
clocks not set.
I stand at the water,
to drink last trees.

We wait at the planet’s door
our body wild divides,
these cliffs will stand straight
up and down with antimony's grain,
there was a terrible hum at death
I will translate the harmony.

There was a terrible pain at birth
I will translate the pleasure not sorrow.

9.
After your murder
if I passed the Great River
I would divine it,
and when death closed,
I would prick my eyes
then my nipples
to savor red milk.

—Do not cut the mother
No hunting in her mouth.

10.
Swannaken cut me down
to commit the murder to the murder.
I sleep in a double cradle;
all companions lost,
no John, Ska Nee.

I will dissolve the air
as Ska Nee taught.

There is no frame,
I will heal inside
the pulp of the stem;
my sight opens
color—pulls out its nerve

This was John’s mask;
I put it on for survival.

Here are Ska Nee’s female parts;
I will wear them
for her dreams
were given
with mercy.

11.
What are my names after dying?
I am, truly, spirit?

12.
First time you died
breathing smoke
from your mother’s lips
shot as you stood at the cliff
in a second of laughter
Second time you died
breathing life into your mother.
You fell from the cliff and
were taken by the man
you call Edward.

13.
I knew the end of the rivers
where the ocean stirs the clay
into slurry then indivisible
There was great honor
in stone and sand
in the fragments of history
baked to white bone.

14.
Adored Ska Nee
at ledge where we fall
blessed thy arms
and kiss our mouth

Like the contemplation of the plum,
we are that plum; thee, sky
to unpredictable forest’
patient background to what
we met when time drew
itself in its own box.

15.
The sun has one more shadow
to make before it paints the river,
and the heavens descend
into the mask of its mask.

When gravity is revoked
time falls down.

Have you noticed?


Editor’s Note: These excerpts from Sean’s collection of poems called Narratives of New Netherland are just a small portion of the work, which is about 40 pages long (single spaced).

Table of Contents



FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 40 | Spring 2013