Natural History, the Curious Institution

Two months to the Caribbean,
our hold crammed tight
with cargo still breathing.
                 In Lisbon after eight weeks in the bowels 
                 of a slave ship: samples of carmine and indigo,
                 preserved scale insects, the dye’s dried flower.
Fifteen hundred blocks iron ballast
to steady our galley with Negroes loaded, hull 
plangent in rough seas’ throes and tortures.
                 The right to sell slaves in New Spain accords 
                 with our grand scheme—imagine the returns 
                 in American herbs, the cures and remedies. . . .