Friday, 6 April 2012

The Titanic and the Black Man

"It is strange that nowhere in the copious 1912
press descriptions of the ship and the interviews
with the survivors was the presence of a Black
family among the passengers ever mentioned."

--Judith Geller, Titanic Historian

I can imagine how your eyes lifted to shrieking
stars, Joseph Laroche. You, never to be Amen 'd
(not a minute to be minstrel), were the lone black
man going down with the Titanic. You type-roped
on a hairline, dizzied, nameless--not a Rothschild--
not news worthy. We'll never see you in any wax
museum. But you were swaying every-which-way
on that Floating Palace, maybe shouting fluent
English and/or French as those angelic musicians
played, "Nearer, My God, To Thee." Here, we can
see the psychedelic fury on the Boat Deck, you
trying to find Life Jackets, the Invisible Man. How
did you get your olive-colored wife and two "Jap
babies" (that's what someone said), into a last boat?
The nephew of a Prince of Haiti, you were never
going to fly on the bow (no Kate Winslet for you),
in any mega-movie. We wonder, of course, did you
ever strut across the Grand Lobby, tell John
Aster, a valet, anyone--that you were degreed,
an engineer? That nobody would hire you? No,
the iceberg wasn't an equalizer. But we're with
you now, hear the sputter of boilers, do study
the bulkheads, see the high funnel of the ship
falling. Today, Joseph Laroche, somewhere in
the Atlantic, we would like to think that you are
still swimming: an Olympian, your body defying
the bone chill of water, giving it that full stroke--
a Glory against all odds--not sinking, ever.

© Isaac Black

Titanic tale fuses tragedy, truth

Isaac Black has poems published or forthcoming in journals like the Beloit
Poetry Journal, Callaloo, and Poetry Quarterly. He's been awarded New
York poetry fellowships.