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The Branded Palm of Captain Walker, Abolitionist

ISSUE:  Winter 2004
I trace pencil lead over
the photograph—the brand follows
his life lines, a giant “M,”

and the man lives again
in indelible harm,
his hand raw in mine.

What help across the river?
Scar rising in the belly’s
mark, in the tide’s

happening again. Scar

like Rilke’s “clearly shining ‘M’ ”
in the stars—

which stood for “mother,”
but I call “mercury.”
Poison precedes the image;

poison’s mother to us all—
the first photo was light arrested
by mercury. Without this element,

the image never ends
and thus disappears.
Have faith in poison,

wrote the traveler.
If I move faster
than the shutter, I was never here.


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