The galleon’s shadow

The galleon’s shadow

Battle of the Saints
The Battle of the Saintes, 12 April 1782: surrender of the Ville de Paris by Thomas Whitcombe, painted 1783, shows Hood’s HMS Barfleur, centre, attacking the French flagship Ville de Paris, right. via Wikipedia


In the islet’s museum there is a twisted
wine bottle, crusted with fool’s gold from the iron-
cold depth below the redoubt. It has been listed

variously by experts: one, that a galleon
blown by a hurricane out of Cartagena,
this far east, had bled a trail of gold bullion

and wine from its hold (a view held by many a
diver lowering himself); the other was nonsense
and far too simple: that the gold-crusted bottle

came from a flagship in the Battle of the Saints,
but the glass was so crusted it was hard to tell.
Still, the myth widened its rings every century;

that the Ville de Paris sank there, not a galleon
crammed with imperial coin, and for her sentry,
An octopus-cyclops, its one eye like the moon.

Deep as a diver’s faith but never discovered,
their trust in the relic converted the village,
who came to believe that circling frigates hovered

over the relic, that gulls attacked them in rage.
They kept their faith when the experts’ ended in doubt.
The galleon’s shadow rode over the ruled page

where Achille, rough weather coming, counted his debt
by the wick of his kerosene lamp; the dark ship
divided his dreams, while the moon’s octopus eye

climbed from the palms that lifted their tentacles’ shape.
It glared like a shilling. Everything was money.
Money will change her, he thought, Is this bad living

that make her come wicked. He had mocked the belief
in the wreck ship out there. Now he began diving
in a small shallop beyond the line of the reef,

with spear-gun and lobster-pot.

from Omeros Chapter VIII, part I by Derek Walcott

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