On the Good Ship Elijah McClain

Black skin is an accelerant.
                          –Malcolm Gladwell

In Shiatsu the high seas of pressure points woo him,
how touch restores, relieves, cures, resets the knee,

a child who sometimes lived in cars, taught himself
to play guitar, discovered bioluminescence, unearthing
a tender aptitude for the mining of his own light.

At the Aurora hotel where he lived with his family,
he forecasted his dream board to his mother,
Work on a Cruise ship, Give free massage, Heal the world.

While waiting for his figment freighter Elijah played
first violin to abandoned cats in shelters, silky moiré
strings fracturing their leonine loneliness.

10 pm. Just before they contort him into twin carotids,
his brother dreams of iced tea. A young man with light
aptitude has no fear of moving through the blueberry

leaves of night. Elijah ups his ski mask, earphones, sea
lion aura, he is back inside his wetsuit, the cats back at
the shelter glance towards the door for the man with the

long gliding stick, who curtseys to them before playing
for them. He dives into his starlight, swimming beyond
his lungs, his far-sightedness, his anemia, frightened off.

He is salt warm, piquant, his blood thicker, the blue
green algae of his mind perfuming his hybrid lungs,
krill and seaweed inhaled, mixing with the microfibers

around his bashful mouth. The red ringed octopus
that swims with him whenever he ventures out this late
lightly touches Elijah’s face with the tip of his fifth arm.

His terrestrial anxiety lifts as he descends to his mud
bottom land. A hunter-gatherer, safely behind the
safety glass of his window, is already on the phone

turning Elijah in, reporting a sea monster in black
ski mask walking by, his ten arms waving “sketchy”
in the night air. Elijah McClain has no man-made

weapons, nothing but his dark sea urchin skin,
soft silvery scales, two shimmering nocturnal eyes,
a shark skin boy, cooing to himself, headed back

to the Aurora hotel after scoring his brothers iced
tea. Elijah is now his own deep. The first one yells
for him to stop. His Black boy gills tingle with his

endangeredness. The sea is the authority. He keeps
his arms moving. His skinny legs send one final
memo up to the mouth of his ski mask: Once upon

a time, 10 million years before, feet were fins. Behind the
mask Elijah smiles into a long hanging stalactite
of prehistoric memory, the hunter-gatherers have

surrounded him, his black skin beneath his black
mask is their favorite red meat, beating their chests,
their body cameras drop-disappear into ancient

fjords. These HG’s know nothing of the sea from
whence they came, rock-hard terrestrials needing
their pressure points attended to — topple him.

It’s five against one when the whale hook is force fed
into his arm. Elijah’s glittering sea horse veins are hosed
down, 1963 Birmingham, a Niagara Falls of Ketamine,

the treble clef tattoo on Elijah’s right shoulder bugles
the alarm, a netting of squid ink lassoes out to protect
his gentle collagen carapace. Elijah’s heart is up in arms,

his lungs and liver are foaming at the mouth, in utter
disbelief, the great inaccuracy, the intentional historical
disregard, the human they have coupled with for twenty-

three years, his royal kindness, his dream of free massage
for all, now gasping for breath. Elijah enters the slippery
river rocks of semi-unconsciousness. His toes wiggle for

nitrogen, bouncing against the boulders of the white
waters of the Colorado River. His heart signs for him
to push his voice up through his gurgling organ pipes,


“I am an introvert…please…”
                              (he tenders)
“Respect the boundaries….please…”
                              (he sets forth)
“I’m just different, that’s all…”
                              (he proffers)
“Leave me alone…please…”
                              (he insists)
“I have no gun. I intend to take my power back…”
                             (he speaks his motion)
“I have a right to where I am going…”
                              (he overtures)
“I’m so sorry.”

The kindest man on earth apologizes, unable to
control his spewing, everything they have gorged
him with now hurling through the August air.


One day, on the Good Ship Elijah McClain,
after checking into our deep-sea cabins, black
ski masks handed out with tangerine life savers,

we will find ourselves on deck bowing, curtseying
to each other. At first, it will all feel so silly, the
gravitational surrender of our upper bodies and

knees to the maritime mystery of someone we
do not know, just to be sure and say before the
day is done, I watched your glass octopus dancing down

the dark wet street last night and I am no longer afraid
for you to know how shamelessly your sonata for Manx
and Maine Coon turned me inside out.

Copyright © 2023 by Nikky Finney. Used with permission of the author. All rights reserved.