“She’s coming round!” The lookout cried,
the stoutest hearts did quail.
We strained to see and soon espied
the masts and swinging sail.
We knew before we saw the ship
the type that she would be.
The tallest mast, the flag a-tip,
each watching soul could see.
It was a pirate flag we knew
fluttering on that rope:
a blood-red flag, a threat in view,
no quarter and no hope.
We were traders, not men of war,
our numbers were too few:
outmanned, outgunned, and what was more,
they could outsail us too.
All turned to see, as if one man,
what Captain John would say.
“Brave men,” he called, “I have a plan.
We may live past this day.”
We yelled assent, no reneging,
though none guessed his design.
We set the sails and the rigging,
our lives on each taut line.
Then Captain John took quiet stance
behind the wheel to steer;
and though we knew it made no sense
we somehow felt less fear.
The sea wolves’ ship rode into view,
chilled us to the marrow.
The men could see, the captain too,
our lead quickly narrow.
A pirate warning shot splashed near;
The captain steered us west,
and we could see with renewed fear
their ship drawing abreast.
A shadow underneath us flew,
then we knew the gamble.
The pirate sailors saw it too:
how the wolves did scramble.
They tried to haul their ship about
We saw it jolt and stop.
A mast went down, we raised a shout,
the hateful flag atop.
“I grew up sailing this water.
I know this reef and gap.
I led those pirates to slaughter,
it’s not on any map.”
The captain turned our ship away.
He smiled, “I’ll take no blame.
That blood-red flag’s the rule today:
the sea wolves named the game.”
By: Michael Williams / June 27, 2003
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There is a story that goes with this poem. This was not too long after I had taken up writing poetry again after 30+ years of writing little or nothing. I had written a few poems in iambic heptameter, which is 14 syllables. When I went to write this poem I was playing with the line length and settled on two lines one of eight syllables and one of six syllables, mostly because it fit the natural linebreaks of what I was writing and still felt like heptameter. I posted it on another poetry board (which also no longer exists) and one of the first comments was complimenting me on my use of Ballad meter. I had to go look it up before I could respond to the comment. So this is the first poem I ever wrote in Ballad meter, even if I didn’t know it when I wrote it.