Five Children on a Boat by John C. Mannone

Five Children on a Boat
      off Dauphin Island, Alabama

They say five is a figure of grace
and these children are a testimony
to that. Boisterous laughter fills
the air, drowns the squawks of sea
gulls that some of them imitate:
the swoop and hover, the taunt and
impatience for food thrown off
the stern by people in the bay-bound
boat in Alabama waters. They follow
us from shore wanting more bread,
fresh or stale, it doesn’t matter, they
are happy and unashamed to beg
food from us. We humor them,
mimicking their cries, which often
sound more like laughter.

The children ask for nothing more
than love. The oldest proclaims it
on her colorful T-shirt—the letters
L  O  V  E stenciled across her heart.
What do they know about the lack
of it? They know nothing because
their mother, a quiet guardian, hovers
nearby ready to snatch any love she
can for them. Mothers would steal
into this country because they want
to give opportunity to their children,
more than the love they already have,
even in rough seas in back of a small
boat seeking solace from oppression
of bad weather, and relentless bluster
of ignorance in their own country,
leaders’ blindness to peoples’ needs.

Children gaze across the Gulf, imagine
the land of their grandparents. Mira!
their mother says. Allí past the dolphins
breaking water, and all the seagulls,
beyond the hundreds of miles migrant
birds from Veracruz had taken flight
for sanctuary here. Just over the edge
son las montañas Sierra Madre a Puebla—país
del tus abuelos
. One day, we will go back.

Perhaps we who stand quiet onshore
can share bread with gulls as hungry
as the children who haven’t yet learned
how to be selfish, or hate.


John C. Mannone, winner of the 2020 Dwarf Stars Award, has poems appearing in the North Dakota Quarterly, Le Menteur, Foreign Literary Journal, Poetry South, Baltimore Review, and others. He won the Impressions of Appalachia Creative Arts Contest (poetry, 2020) and the Carol Oen Fiction Award (2020). He was awarded a Jean Ritchie Fellowship (2017), and served as the celebrity judge for the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (2018). He edits poetry for Abyss & Apex, Silver Blade, Liquid Imagination, and is a contributing editor to ADR. A retired physics professor, Mannone lives between Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee. Visit his blog, The Art of Poetry, and his Facebook page.

Editor’s Translation Notes:
Mira! [Look!]
Allí [Over there]
son las montañas Sierra Madre a Puebla—país/del tus abuelos
[are the Sierra Madre mountains past Puebla—land of your grandparents]

Image credit: Photograph was taken by the author on a porpoise cruise off Dauphin Island, Alabama, USA (July 2015)