Poetry at Sangam




To the future Master Charlie Rebel,

among the topos of our Lord, 1630

     Now, reduced to here, this island, discrete, I myself am only I, a thwarted man. Petition after petition to go abroad, to return to the new world I christened New England ( I dream, of course, of that day when it will be necessary to rename this spit of land New Britain) for our King (yes, yours too, that pinnacle of divine right you keep trying to flatten into your, as our, manifest destiny), rejected, denied. So I write, for what else can a desailed man do? Yes, I am reduced to a man of letters, the humiliation of the desk and sitting-room. I presume you will have known, and doubtless will have despised, Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” that house-weary paean to our all-too-soon waning empire (an ache I feel even though I stand on the other side of the bell curve, in ascension). I get it, and though you sit—no, stand—awashed in the glorious light of broken and conflated humors, not unlike your presumptuous United States of America, the genetic flaw, your mortal coil upon itself, has become, shall we posit, rather visible. I know something about this, am told, have heard, they claim, am too familiar.

     And so, I am family, one of your ancestors, if not a relative. I remain flattered to be claimed as one of your heroes. You understand, then, the necessity of conquest, the annexation of spatiality by space, one manifold of departure and destination as here we stand. Yes, I too have toppled the tyranny of metaphor, imprisoned it in the cells of my poems. However, I am disturbed by reports from the future prior to yours, this Riemann and his influence on, if not over, you. Yes, I managed to map important sections of the land I dubbed New England. But this mapping, however technical, could not be abstracted into the mathematical idealisms that you derived from Riemannian geometry. This is hardly a defense of Euclid, that other genius of idealism. The earth is neither round nor flat; nor is it a sphere even if it approaches the spherical. You cast out the chimera of metaphor only to sneak it back in under the cover of metonym, a maximum contiguity cobbled together as a metaphysics of materialism. There is, in your various essays on “the getting rid” of this and that, a letting-in that comes or stands between the typewriter and thing, that is, an invited company of things that stand between one thing and another thing. Perhaps this is all due to this thing you dub “literature,” which you scorn as that which interferes with what is before us, what can be apprehended by the musket, by the force of speech, though I have found, in my limited experience, nothing gets through the muck like a good sound thrashing…

     By then you will have heard the rumors, the alleged mutiny, insurrection, and totalitarianism which I will not deny to you, my brother to come. I confess to these acts but not to their criminalization. For I crossed the sea with a ship of fools, a stiff-necked horde dressed up as “crew” and “passengers.” Were it not for me you and your States would not exist. I apologize for nothing, I do not regret, do not look back, put one foot in front of another as I march into the annals which will have chronicled my journeys. You understand a man like me, a man who gets things done, the petty mores and customs of little minds notwithstanding. We are never not at war, and yet my expeditions which demanded the sacrifice of men are used to punish me as though I am to be held accountable for losses without compensations for the gains. I am held up as an “example,” penned within the stockade of a people whose very survival remained perilous but for my interventions. What is at issue is neither the events nor their sequence but only the question of interpretation, how these markers are to be held—or if you will, published—as history. I won, triumphed over adversity, raised my savage countrymen to the highest pitch of possibility, and yet, though I put down this history, this mapping, in my own books, they have been overwritten by the envious and poisonous pens of my enemies. I trust you will provide the remedy for these injustices, these bloated travesties, the likes of which are truly unparalleled in the history of our—pardon me, my—great land.

     I am once again asea, but this time I have no deck below me, no men around me. I spend my days writing letters to Her Majesty, letters that, I know, go unread, or if read, are scorned, tossed aside as I have been discarded, decommissioned. Usurped by scribblers who write of the savages with no direct knowledge of their habits and customs, who guess at the circumference of seas, rivers, lakes by sight alone, I am bereft, my attention to the particulars of coastal erosion, tidal eddies, reduced to pedantry. You too will suffer this fate, your incompetence at chair-sitting and bluster exposed in all its nakedness, what will be your Big Horn. Call it Black Rock.

Your humble brother,
Captain John Smith