“Borkum” Poems by T. B. Ulliam and S. Mackertich

Toyb ben Uilliam (they/them) is a botanist and IWW union organizer from the American Northeast. They dream of a kinder world, and restful Shabbos. Samantha Mackertich (she/her) is an anthropologist who can often be found sorting through bones and spreadsheets of bone data. She loves rom-coms, urban fantasy, and early 2000’s aesthetics.

Borkum Blood
Toyb ben Uilliam

“On the island of Borkum (known for its whalers, pirates, and Nazi war-crimes), archeologists unearthed a congregation of skeletons hidden under a church. Boys and young men crippled by a rare connective-tissue disorder, Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome, which is characterized by joint hypermobility, osteoarthritis, slow-healing, and velvety, youthful skin.”
-Samantha Mackertich

Where in the soil is their blood?
What of the skeletons of Borkum?
The island that was three and is one.

The first tethered to the land,
one of their men could steady themself on one end,
and with whirl and snap of joint could harpoon,
the other end, and with a heave,
bend it in two.

They were whalers,
that slew and flensed leviathans,
grinding every innocent bone to use.

They were pirates,
a lesion on the ships of empire,
eating away their hands and feet.

They were hobbled to the man,
children taking the worst,
they’d fall at a wound and not get up.

Never before and never again,
was a people cursed to the bone,
and yet they lived.

Some child with arthritic back and wavering knees,
would take to the sea and fight and not die,
and crawl upon land to sire a son.

And these sons would do the same,
taking care to their own kind.
They died young with older bones and younger faces,

but lived the span allotted to their trade.
They chose brutal lives, they didn’t have a choice.
They were crippled, they were lame, they exemplified man.

They were exceedingly mortal.
When a storm scoured their land,
they fell and did not rise again.

But in their blight they find their kind,
across the years both young and old,
they bear the weight they did before.

And if the ghouls squatting on their bones,
make these men into their volkish pride,
for their role as hunters and warriors,

They can sieve the soil for their blood,
and find only their bones,
for the blood is upon the world and in the salt sea.

And only the rootless, the crippled, the displaced,
all those cleansed from the island,
Are as human as those boys of Borkum

Borkum Boys
Samantha Mackertich

“Borkum after the loss of its whaling population was made a tourist resort, known for the “Borkum Song” telling those with “flat feet, crooked noses and curly hair” to get out. An orchestra would play it. Postcards were sold depicting Jewish caricatures being turned away. Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome is found in 1 in 248 Ashkenazi Jews, the closest extant communal relationship to the disability”
-Noah Williams

Sailors’ blood is hiding somewhere in this soil. I can hear it
lapping against the worn church floorboards. Borkum’s unholiest
boys chafe within crowded crypts and thirst for seawater.

Oceans forgive even pirates hobbled to the bone. A familiar devil
crouched behind unknown genes chewing lesions on their knees.
And yet some child, already arthritic, would hobble with harpoons

To take the sea with bend and bounce. Heave their weapons
into fleshy whales or blubbering merchants. Break them
down to treasures, heavy in their small, gnarled hands.

He would limp, leaning on his harpoon, upon land to sire
a son, a bedtime story. Baby-faces stretched over old bones.
Exceptionally mortal, they died young and unlucky on land.

Borkum’s new tenants like to keep things tidier; sweep the sick,
criminal, undesirable, under the rug and slap a steeple over it.
But the Borkum boys sing sea-shanties;

Haunting without pause for breath into the shells of ears.

From the Editor:

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In Parentheses Magazine (Volume 7, Issue 3) Winter 2022

By In Parentheses in IP Volume 7

32 pages, published 1/15/2022

The Winter 2022 issue of In Parentheses Literary Magazine. Published by In Parentheses (Volume 7, Issue32)
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