Sentinel Poetry (Online) #38

The International Journal of Poetry & Graphics Monthly

ISSN 1479-425X









Olive Senior


At the Slave Museum                                   


The slave ship shell-shock dark

as the night-filled gourd


Cavernous as a grave fault


The viewer’s mind

stretches to fit.

Fails to grasp




we come to it


the child’s body flexed

not yet shelled out.


At the heart of this search

something breaks


Outside: the Sun has his eye on


the truth that spirals out of ( )hell.



Peppercorn Riddle


Torn from the vine in a place of moist

heat and shade where I was growing,

skin once plump and reddish, glowing.

Suddenly, a job lot. Indiscriminately

thrown in, we are jumbled, shaken up,

rolled together, little knowing our fate

or destination, till  black and shrivelled 

by the sun, looking all alike now, we are

tumbled into hold of a ship for forty days

and forty nights (we guess – for black 

is the fenestration).


Disgorged, spilled out, shell-shocked

I come parched and dried, my head

emptied, till shock-still I come to rest,

shelled-out, buck-naked. In the mad

ensuing scramble, who will come

who will come sample me,

view me, choose me, sort me out

for grade and quality, drive me home

to crush me, use me? Know that alone

I’m of little value, like a peppercorn

rental. All together, we can pepper

your arse with shot.


Over time, despite our treatment,

you’ll see, survivors stay pungent

and hot. You can beat me senseless,

grind me down, crush me to bits, to

powder. You can never lose my bite

on your tongue, my hold on your senses:

forever I’ll linger and cling.


In your mad scramble to possess,

devour me, remember, if you’d only

allow me to do a strip-tease, slow, peel off

my black skin, you’d be pleased –

or shocked – to discover: I’m white below.



Cane Gang


Torn from the vine from another world

to tame the wildness of the juice, assigned

with bill and hoe to field or factory, chained

by the voracious hunger of the cane


the world’s rapacious appetite for sweetness


How place names of my servitude mock me:

Eden, Golden Vale, Friendship, Green Valley,

Hermitage, Lethe, Retreat, Retirement, Content,
Paradise, Phoenix, Hope, Prospect, Providence


Each with the Great House squatting

on the highest eminence

the Sugar Works overlooking

my master’s eye unyielding

the overseer unblinking

not seeing

the black specks

floating across

their finely-crafted



At shell blow assembled the broken-down

bodies, the job-lots scrambled into gangs

like beads on a string O not pearls no just
unmatched pairings the random bindings

like cane trash no not like the cane pieces

laid out geometric and given names

and burning.


The First House


Homeless, Deminán and his brothers

orphaned and wandering forefathers,

Winds of Four Quarters, blew hither

and yon until


Turtle Woman stopped them

in their tracks: the first mating. Said:

I am ready for nesting. Said: Build me

a house. Untrained, but undaunted

(in the way of such heroes) they each

took a corner of the world, stood like

pillars to anchor it and strained and

puffed to lift high the roof of sky,

which billowed out and in (they had

a hell of a time controlling it) until

it righted itself and domed into

the model of Turtle Woman’s shell.


And so we were born in the House

of our Great Mother,  our crabbed

and comforting genitor, who still bears

our first house on her back.




You think I’ve stayed home all my life,

moving at snail’s pace, sneakily living off

another’s labour? You think I’ve nought

to leave behind but empty shell? Come:

study me. Take my chambered shell apart.

Brace yourself for whirlwinds

coiled at my heart.



(After viewing Botero)


He’s rumbled them, sketched them skin

stretched taut as drum.


Leaving flesh to make its ample statement

is so wise.


The rhythms of their stories freeze us

in black pearl eyes.





Trophy wife, power object,

your lustre fading

from neglect, pull


that rope from around

your neck. Don't you

want to be free?


Come now, break the spell.

Let each pearl be.

Or cast them 


before swine. What have you

to lose? Honour,

like the pearl,


is already used. Keep a single

pearl for contemplation

of the kingdom within,


or injest it for melancholy,

madness, and other

lunar folly.


Better yet, count it

a blessing, save

for longevity.


Too many lives

already lost

for this string.



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