The Maier Museum of Art
at Randolph College

“Parlous Waters” by R. A. Allen

After Scuttlebutt in the Horse Latitudes (2015) by Brett De Palma

Ere we boarded the King’s caravels
for the New World, we scorned
the dockside tales about what befalls
sailors in the calms of Cancer.

About how, once caught ʼneath
its equatorial sun, the livestock—
given their prodigious thirst—
must be cast o’erside to preserve
freshwater rations.

About how, in the boredom that makes
men villains, treble dreaded madness
descends upon all hands. Whereupon
provoked by the harpies of their delirium,
they wreak chaos; they plot self-destruction.

Aye, we deemed them yarns spun by fools
till our bowsprit broke into the Doldrums.
Drifting on the swells, slack sails rattling in the heat,
our eyes glazed by copper skies and glassy seas—
ʼtwas then we spied the first horses.

R. A. Allen’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the New York Quarterly, RHINO, The Penn Review, B O D Y, Cloudbank, Alba, and elsewhere. He has nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net 2020. Fiction publications include The Literary Review, The Barcelona Review, PANK, The Los Angeles Review, and Best American Mystery Stories 2010.He lives in Memphis and was born on the same day the Donner Party resorted to cannibalism: December 26th.  More at