Online Exclusive

From Pirate Talk, or, Mermalade
Ma, there’s rope in my soup.
      Eat it or you can’t watch the hanging.
      I can’t eat it, not a drop more, Ma. All the chewing hurts my teeth.
      It’s bone, that’s all. Bone against bone. Chew it up, then spit it into your hand. See—a pig clavicle or a horse bone, not rope.
      Ma, after I spit again, can I sit in brother’s seat? I don’t like the shadow here.
      That shadow won’t hurt you. Sit still and stop your wheezing and sneezing and snot-dribbling.
      The drumming’s so loud today, my head hurts.
      So many pirates to drum in just now, Old Hubble is getting his practice, best at the dirge in all the colonies soon enough.
      There—at the bottom of my bowl—see?
      It’s just a bit of chew. If we sit just right, maybe we’ll see the beardtips flame again. I do love the rope.
      It’s the shadow here that does it, I can’t resist the rope.
      Put up a rag to curtain it.
      Eat your soup. And the bones too. I sold yesterday’s rope for those bones. And wipe your nose on my skirt.
      But the shadow goes across my bowl now.
      Close your eyes and eat. You don’t give your poor Ma credit for the soup.
      Credit is what the butcher gives.
      He does not no longer. At least there’s always rope to fetch here after a hanging, good rope to sell or to dangle for the mussels to hook themselves onto that make up such a good soup.
      Makes a person want to go to sea, your soup.
      You’d be your brother then, and curses to you. Hark—there they are. A woman brigand too.
      Brother is not so much at sea now.
      Brother had better be, and making coin for us too.
      Such black hair on her—
      That one declared herself with child at the trial but they couldn’t find sign of it, then she bled after they looked and you’d better believe there was no sign of it then.
      See how she tosses her skirt up the stairs right behind him?
      That’s the priest in his skirts right behind her.
      No, it’s not. It’s the prisoner. Can’t you see your way around fat Morgan Little and her servants-in-waiting?
      It is the priest. He’s moving fast like he’s cured of his knees.
      Stop your sneezing. Were you out standing in the sea this morning? Stay out of the water, you’re supposed to pull up the ropes, not go in after them.
      The ropes were caught.
      Isn’t that the priest waving now—or hushing them?
      I could tell but for fat Morgan Little.
      He’s got to both say the condemnation and the Praise Lord. The magistrate broke his leg this morning climbing a stile and no one else will do it.
      Let me go off, Ma.
      You don’t want that, it’s food only good for throwing. Rotten. Sit down. Eat your soup.
      But Ma.
      Hush, they’re singing now—the pirates are singing, not begging for their lives. I heard these were merry folk, that they boarded ships singing songs with their knives out full and not between their teeth. That was their mistake, not having their hands free to grip the boat.
      They wanted a good cutlass like Cap’n Peters.
      Singing makes you brave. Hear how many verses they have? The baker hiding in his hood can’t stand still for all this singing.
      The baker will dance with his bread. Look, he’s using an old rope today, Master Mason’s, the one he dipped his sheep with and can’t get out the smell.
      You know all the ropes.
      You have taught me well enough. Not so much the writing of letters or the sum gathering, but all of ropes and their histories.
      They’ve soaked his beard in gum. You can’t see the faces for the smoke.
      I wish we had a curtain.
      The he pirate said the When himself. Now the baker’s banged the heads together, jigging them up so hard.
      I feel it.
      The mortal dance ought not to be done without someone watching. Look, look, I say. Fierce they are, and fierce be their Nancies.
      They dance in my soup.
      We ought to sell seats here. People like to sit and watch.
      People like to press close and not sit, they like to hear everything clear.
      It’s a shame, having to cut the bit that holds them up, with the price of rope as it is. But it’s a nice bit left and I’m sure to get it.
      It makes me seasick—the gallow’s shadow in my soup, even with them cut down.
      I can never catch my breath after.
      It’s a kind of pleasure for you.
      Hold your tongue. I see your friend is picking pockets again, collecting the coppers while they watch it to the end. He’ll take his turn.
      She’s still shaking.
      I could not take her shoes right off her like Sarah. The vermin crawl out at the very moment of the last breath and then they jump for the next foot, they do.
      They cut the rope too soon.
      See her run, even with feet that bare.
      If they catch her—
      They can’t try her again.
      People do stop their gossip for a miracle. It’s worth living to see a miracle, isn’t it, Ma?
      Miracles only bring trouble. I’ve had my own, and worse. Be off with your friend now, and look into the pockets of those who are gaping the most. And don’t forget the Cap’n’s kit. He’ll have something in it for me, if he’s not drunk it away already.
      All he’s come in with is four whale, one washed up on the beach.
      Then he’s blessed enough and won’t hit me so hard. Be off with you.
      Just leave that bench, Ma. I don’t want you getting low while I’m gone and trying the rope.
      You’re not to worry. All the rope I have was in the soup, knowing I’d get fresh. 

Terese Svoboda’s most recent book of stories, is Great American Desert (Mad Creek). Anhinga Press is publishing Theatrix: Play Poems, her eighth book of poems, in 2021.