Captain James Cook was an explorer in the 1700s. During 1779, he had stopped at the Sandwich Islands, now the Hawaiian Islands. While the details of what happened during a skirmish with the native Hawaiians are highly debated, the result was the death of Captain Cook and several of his men. The poem below by John Rice paints a colorful portrait of one take on the events of that day.

February 14, 1779

Captain Cook was killed

today by people who loved

him, in their way. On a beach

in the Sandwich Isles

where first he’d met

with only smiles, they clubbed

him down – his back

was turned, he never saw

what love had earned.

They boiled him away

to skin and bones, polished

his skull with sacred stones

and set it

in a sacred place

with sacred leaves

and sacred flowers –

a tribute

to his godly powers.

Bones from fingers, bones

from toes, perhaps

some cartilage

from his ears and nose

were finally returned

to his English crew

for burial at sea

as they knew to do.

We give chocolate, we tell

sweet lies and rarely think

of Cook’s demise.

John E. Rice February 2013

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