The Irony of Bartolomé de las Casas

The Irony of Bartolomé de las Casas

Ken Chen
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You planet-pated witness watching the New World end

do you in the Ghost World wander

your cell and let your memories reconvene

Your first voyage

You a boy, quiet sidekick in dinghy sitting

The white Atlantic shallows caressing what we now call Haiti

where you would watch your father raid the Taíno

for slaves or do your cogitations take

you towards more revolting days

You were not yet used to the coconut palms, their branches

a rake for this other sky

You were surprised how quickly some people

would take to such new ways of being

Cloaked in God’s black cape you saw your lay flock flay

a native child

They fed the boy’s arms to hounds

and you were a hound

You were a God dog who leapt

from the womb

A torch clenched between your teeth

and when you followed the coming of the men from Spain

a woman saw you

She tied a rope around her waist

She tied the other end around her baby’s neck and leapt

to hang herself

And garlanded by the song from the new birds

of Eden, you resolved to stop this


You wrote You witnessed You debated You convinced

the royal state to halt

the trading of natives as slaves

And is it here in the Ghost World’s plantations where

you hear the sobbing of those you said

should replace the native folk, that blue lament

sung by your more fitting source of slaves

from the west coast

of Africa?

This poem is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

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