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The ocean is a library of skin.
I cross the paper waves and printed sands
To charge a royal copper from your hands,
To stun the groundlings of my London inn.
My master has an pretty tale to spin:
He crowns me painted princeling of my lands,
A manuscript no reader understands.
He lies for me. I take it on the chin
Until I perish. Scholars flay my hide;
They long to read my secret alphabet.
Yet I shall not be bled nor mummified—
Now I decay. My ghost defies them yet:
My ink and flesh are scattered close and wide,
My absence haunts poetic Internet.


This poem is inspired by Prince Giolo, aka Jeoly (d. 1692), a Mindanao slave who was exhibited for his tattoos in London, where he died of smallpox. His skin was preserved in Oxford University, but appears to have gone missing.

This poem is a datasonnet, a literary form of the poet's own invention: a strictly metered and rhymed sonnet which readers have the liberty of rearranging in sequence. You are invited to go to the linked document and randomly alter the order of the lines:

Current Issue
5 Dec 2022

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