“Unbind the Soul”

In “The Ghost Hunter” (issue number 99), writer Leah Sottile profiles Cameron La Follette, a woman who has dedicated several years of her life to discovering what happened to the men aboard a Manila galleon that shipwrecked off the Oregon coast in the late 17th century. La Follette is a prolific poet, and much of her verse focuses on the galleon and the lore surrounding it.

The Atavist Magazine is pleased to present three of her poems.

—The Editors

The Tale

The tale—the tale that has never been told,

Of men who died nameless in courage and lust for gold,

Who sailed the vast whale-shimmering seas,

Massacred in a land of giant mist-cloaked trees;

Who looked for rescue, but no one came

As they prayed their last on incense and flame;

Whosoever uncovers this long-buried tale

And speaks the men’s names who traveled by sail,

Whose corpses littered a cold gray shore,

Memories drowned in tides and forgotten in lore,

Timbered ship rolling in the foaming white wave,

Then sea-covered and groaning in sandy grave;

And the cargo of silk, spice and jewel

Traded and dispersed on borderlands misty and cruel—

Whoever learns of it, may it unbind the soul

That is but embers long sunken into coal;

Names again spoken be resurrection of the dead,

And then the soul, reborn gasping at the shining head.

Nameless Galleon

If the galleon were known by name,

We could search for her in waters of the heart;

If we heard the white fury, the sea-flame,

We could learn how she was torn apart.

But the galleon vanished without a trace,

Her hundreds of men, her greed and gold;

We search every mocking sea wraith for a face,

And the story that has never been told.

We recount the blood of slaves,

We weep over the ruddy, cruelly-felled teak;

We remember priests and white souls saved,

And merchants in whom gold its torment wreaked.

We search waves gold-filled, green and sapphire,

We search distant lands and pitching main;

But we find not the heart’s quenched fire,

Nor the galleon’s dark salt bloodstain.

We know the violent hues of a rising sea,

We know strange coasts and hovering fire fates;

We hear the warnings, we search endlessly,

Still the cold sea shudders over clashing gates.

Says the Treasure

Says the treasure of Neahkahnie,

I am silks of China and Spanish gold

Moldering under the massy sea,

By ship’s bell rusted and cold.

My heart is cinnamon and myrrh,

My soul silver-work and holy jewel;

The tall teakwood ship, have you found her

In deep sea sounding cruel?

I am not in the mountain nor under stone,

Nor in tunnel shaft sunk down,

But fabled, sea-blown,

Tangled in the lament of the drowned.

Men dig with eager hands

A thousand holes on Neahkahnie’s back;

But the sea washes no treasure to land,

Under basalt jutting old and black.

Lush wait Neahkahnie’s meadows

For sun, rain and white wildflowers;

In the green sea treasure sleeps and glows,

And the wave devours.

Illustration by Peter Strain