He saw the trees blowing,
the hermit crabs glittering on the beach,
the pigs running on the islands.
He had tried to explain
the explosion to his people,
how it made noise, smoke, and steam,
but the kingdom was still intact
in its ancient ribs of broken land.
No, the ri-bellies told him,
the beaches were full of poison,
the fruits were full of poison,
the coconuts were full of poison,
the coconut crabs were full of poison,
the fish were full of poison,
the stones were full of poison,
the sky was full of poison,
the ocean was full of poison,
and, in the depths of the lagoon,
galleons of poison sunk by fire.
So King Juda spread his arms.
He embraced the world he knew.
A day Moon hung thin as a knife
on one azure wall bright as a light-
bulb next to one dim star. Thin
clouds unfurled like ticker tape. The Sun
turned his full face to the Marshalls,
and it seemed to the Argonauts that
the King of the Sky spoke like thunder.
We are both bound by worlds which circle
around us, the Sun said from a wind
in space, what would you have me do,
O Earth bound king? King Juda closed
his eyes. “Leave it,” he said, “just leave
it be. Let the crabs walk on the shore,
let the pigs run in the jungle, let the
gulls circle. Let the octopus reign
at the bottom of the sea.
Let the turtle hide in his particular hump.
Let the great ray of the Sun warm us.
Help me, O lovers and sailors, I’ve lost my home.”
The sun understood but preferred not
to see, so he turned his single vast eye
to his sister the moon and her child the star.
White people were called ri-bellies—the “people who cover.”
It is an old name, as old as the Spanish, purely descriptive.
Large, white, bearded men came to the islands in their hot robes.
They would trod the paths of the islands
which God had given to them
and demand that the girls cover themselves.
They had found a lost tribe.
The children of sea and sky navigated
between the jewels of tropic
using charts spun of sticks.
The Germans made a claim
and paid over four million
for dried coconut meat.
The Pope was very concerned about this.
These sandy lanes felt 4,500
years of indigenous feet
before the leather of Christ made its tattoo.
In 1914, a Japanese sun rose on the horizon.
Pearl divers had been blown off course.
They found a necklace of islands in the eye of the sun.
Korean forced labor built bomb shelters during the war.
In 1946, King Juda stood before the Cyclopes of Navy filmmakers.
“We will go,” he said. “Everything is in the hands of God.”
One has to wonder if he thought himself a king still.
How ironic that Harry, secure in his war weary empire of technology and soft power, could say—
“Having found the atomic bomb,
we have used it. It is an awful
responsibility which has come
to us. We thank God
that it has come to us instead
of to our enemies,
and we pray that He
may guide us to use it in His
ways and for His purposes.”
The Navy had blasted the coral heads in the lagoon
to sail in its target ships.
The king and his people had not been told why.
The lagoon is deep. The population is easy to move.
We are secluded here under a new atomic sun.
Perfect place for a Bomb.
What is it that makes a king?
Russell Brickey’s poetry can be seen online in Eunioa Review, Thick With Conviction, Miller’s Pond, Mobius, Drown in my Own Fears, and in numerous print journals. He has a chapbook (Cold War Evening News) out from Kelsay Books, a chapbook forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil Press (He Knows What a Stick Is), and a full length collection (Atomic Atoll) forthcoming from Wild Leaf Press. He holds an MFA from Purdue University. Now living in the Midwest, he misses the mountains and beaches of his native Oregon.