Poems from the Coast | A Maritime Poetry Series
The latest in our series of maritime inspired poems by Daniel Wade. The Sack of Baltimore was largest attack by Barbary pirates on either Ireland or Great Britain. The sacking took place on 20th June 1631 when the West Cork village of Baltimore was attacked by the Ottoman Algeria and Republic of Salé slavers from the Barbary Coast of North Africa. The pirates captured over 100 villages and took them away to a life of slavery in North Africa.
On the jagged rim of Europe, an inferno
of limb and thatch left a village barren.
The only invasions it knew were the daily
stampede of groundswells, quartets
of gust and fury, gale and storm-force
rumoured by the fishermen and minister,
until a doublet of currachs rode at anchor
in the mellow dusk, the throb of drums
inferred blood’s liability. Women
and children were among those left alive –
crucial prizes hand-picked for slavery.
Eyes sprung salty leaks from the smoke’s
venomous waft and a red caveat was
made of any and all who fought back.
The music of murder drilled their ears,
amber dust settled the shingle, heaving
to on the tide – scimitars punctured
the fog, blood-bleached and warm.
As grey rollers pounded the reef, all it
really amounted to was good business.
When the wind did its level best to whip
the flames into a dark-gold frenzy,
the screams of captured Cornish
were no better than fine accompaniment.
A Janissary’s iron gaze did the work
of its barefoot, waist-coated captain
who took soundings in the blue cove
with a pathologist’s calm, and a djinn’s guile.
The full span of hours coiled around
his clock’s orbiting gesture of tick and strike.
What history could our scribes decode
from this, oil-flamed homesteads,
sluggish galleys rounding on their oars,
oily chum, still brightly flecked with gore,
scooped from a bucket and tossed
to the depths to placate dogfish and basking
shark, the forked orb of a torch,
the crescent moon dulled to an ashen nub
by the hour’s whim, mongrel breezes
sweeping in from the south-east, flexed
manacles, thunder’s slow throb, the singed
silk of the rais’ bandeau, the lateen’s canine
scythe, frenzy of the takbir and burial urn?
June left the reefs unnoticed as a crosstaff.
Then, in salt-cured decline, with nothing to fear
or fancy from the scent of mercenary spray
or gunfire-bursts from the terreplein, Cape Clear
doused the loaded screams, the Barbary waited
as Baltimore receded, emptied of dwellers
before the blaze, under each hexing star:
the sturdiest anchor could hook no witness,
adrift, shackled to oar-bench or harem,
their names long-foundered in the surge,
and denied even the haven of a requiem;
for theirs was once the wild, the infirmity,
and the shame, then and forever,
who are never to set eyes on home again,
blinded by sea mist, deafened by orders
bellowed in a language not their own,
wafted to naught with the swells’ bubbling gust.
Daniel Wade is a poet and playwright from Dublin, Ireland. He is a graduate of Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology where he studied English and Journalism.
Check out his website danielwadeauthor.com for more.