I want to learn to read.
Massa say it do no good—
slaves reading—won’t make
me happy. What I gotta be
happy for? Look at Jimmy-boy,
come down from Maryland, he
can read, been mopin’ ’round
here all day, can’t do nothin’.
He spoiled. That’s his problem.
Like all dem other house niggas,
never felt the sun burn his back
raw, never had the white man kick
him to his knees when he stop
to catch his breath, never bent
over the cotton so long he can’t
stand straight when the work done—
weight of day’s pickings slung
over his shoulder.
I hear Massa say he gon sell
Jimmy-boy to the rice plantation
down south—that’ll whip him into
shape. Me, I stay quiet, meet my weight,
draw letters in the dirt, brush ’em
away ’fore overseer catch wind.
© 2018-2023 Nortina Simmons
Originally published February 3, 2018
Welcome to Day 3 of Black Poetry Writing Month (aka BlaPoWriMo)! BlaPoWriMo is a month-long challenge to write a poem every day during the month of February (Black History Month) related to Black history, Black people, or the Black experience.
Today’s optional prompt is: Write a poem about something forbidden.