An Age of Piracy

Piracy is now endemic to the Somali coast, since
the West will do nothing to stop it.

—News item, 2008

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

—T.S. Eliot

Mermaids, sing me pirate tunes
Of ducats, deniers, and doubloons;
Of schooners on a Spanish Main
Alive with squall and hurricane;
Of ambuscadoes, feints, and raids,
Crisp musketry and cannonades—
Sing of cutlass, dirk, and dagger,
Buccaneers whose saucy swagger
Struts the deck in savage style
As Jolly Roger’s lethal smile
Oversees with bony grin
All the crimes of flush-faced sin.

Sing of lookouts who will scan
Horizons for a merchantman,
And avarice that flares in broils
About division of the spoils.
Sing of murder on the seas—
Grapeshot whistling through the breeze,
Grappling hooks and anchor chains,
Windlass, rigging, splattered brains,
Swordplay, duels, and torrid clenches
With slavegirls and mulatto wenches,
The knowing smirk of cabin boys
Who serve as sodomitic toys.

Sing, my mermaids, of an age
Of insolence and passion’s rage;
Sing of scuttled ships and wrecks,
Of whetted knives at helpless necks,
Flintlocks primed to maim and mangle,
Yardarms from which corpses dangle.
Sing of powder and its stink,
Stolen money’s lurid clink,
Outrage and unholy lust,
Perjured oaths and broken trust,
Hell’s supreme unchallenged sway—
Sing, sweet mermaids, of today.





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Joseph S. Salemi has published poems, translations, and scholarly articles in over one hundred journals throughout the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. His four collections of poetry are Formal Complaints and Nonsense Couplets, issued by Somers Rocks Press, Masquerade from Pivot Press, and The Lilacs on Good Friday from The New Formalist Press.

He has translated poems from a wide range of Greek and Roman authors, including Catullus, Martial, Juvenal, Horace, Propertius, Ausonius, Theognis, and Philodemus. In addition, he has published extensive translations, with scholarly commentary and annotations, from Renaissance texts such as the Faunus poems of Pietro Bembo, The Facetiae of Poggio Bracciolini, and the Latin verse of Castiglione. He is a recipient of a Herbert Musurillo Scholarship, a Lane Cooper Fellowship, an N.E.H. Fellowship, and the 1993 Classical and Modern Literature Award. He is also a four-time finalist for the Howard Nemerov Prize.