#BlaPoWriMo: Oh, How I Love Jesus

after “slaveship” by Lucille Clifton

not to be stripped
from Mother’s womb
chained to corpses
and the near dead
cargo traded for
tobacco and rum
in the Hope*  of our
Lord. the heat the
sweat the release
of bowels the stench
of food we never ate
filling our lungs.

Oh, how I love
Jesus*  shipped us
across hostile seas
tossed to and fro
with every wind and
torrent. flung
overboard some of
our own accord into
a world of red faced
savages**  who preached
divine providence—
Sons of Ham
predestined to bow
under the whip.

Oh, how I love Jesus
heard my back
break from the ground
heard arise a wail
song for deliverance
like those who
crossed the Sea of
Reeds on dry land
heard us sing low
from our bellies—
trouble the waters
flush out our pursuers—
and I’ll hope on
the Lord because
He first loved me.

© Nortina Simmons


* “Hope of the Lord”; “Jesus” — Hope and Jesus were names of slave ships

** “red faced savages” — In his Narrative, Olaudah Equiano described his captors having “red faces and loose hair” and behaving in “so savage a manner.”

#BlaPoWriMo: When Peaches Were in Season

Years later, and I still remember
your ginger hair, red like the sky
just before dusk, after the sun
has set behind the cotton fields,
and we’re back in the quarters,
you lying in hay, my face in the
roots of your crown, smelling the
spiced peaches you prepared for
the Missus. One night you snuck
a jar under the folds of your skirt,
and we hid in the balcony above
the chicken coup, slurping the
slimy sweet fruit between cinnamon
crusted fingers, dripping maple
syrup between wood planks into the
den of orange and brown feathers.
It was the only time you ever kissed
me, leaving behind the sticky,
sugary stain between my nose and
upper lip. I never wiped it off.
Not even when Ol’ Whalen tore my
back raw for loving his wench. Not
when he sent me to the driver to
break me. Not when Mama Celia
delivered your baby lighter than
you. No, not even when they sold
you to the rice plantation in South
Caroline, and I watched you dragged
behind the cart in chains, still
swollen from your recent labor, and
when you turned around one last time
to call goodbye, your crying eyes
leaking streaks of blood. But I still
remember your syrupy lips, fastened to
my rough, wiry beard two seconds shorter
than I wanted it to last, the caramelized
peaches squeezed between your teeth,
your copper hair flipped over your
face, a veil to hide your deepest thoughts,
until I parted the spirally locks
and met your stuffed cheeked grin,
oozing cinnamon and maple peach juice
from the corners of your mouth.

#BlaPoWriMo: Farewell

Squeeze my finger one last time,
your stubby digits enclosed around
my knuckles. You look just like
your father before they disfigured
his face with iron muzzle, bit
down his tongue on rusted metal.

I will always remember the way your
eyes slowly open, adjusting to the
morning sun, how you upchuck just
a little on my breast from nursing
too hurriedly. Let that hunger for
your mother never go away—

Even when you can no longer hear my
voice, when my touch is cool, faint
from the distance, when they beat
you ’til your back blisters open and
your muslin shirt irritates the
wounds my hands cannot heal.

Your cries will echo forever, and
one day when this system crumbles
on its head, and our chains are
broken free, I’ll follow them North,
like the brightest stars in the sky,
’til my embrace calms you once more.

#BlaPoWriMo: No, No, No

No, no, no.
Ain’t breakin’ my back today, Lawd.
No, no, no
Dey whip my boy in de head, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Him run to de woods halfway, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Found him pa in a shallow grave, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Mista gotta rep fir breakin’ slaves, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Drag my boy behind de hay, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Can’t hear no screams, I say, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Let him pain be brief, I pray, Lawd.
No, no, no.
I’ll keep pickin’ til I’m dead, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Keep pickin’ til we dead.

#BlaPoWriMo: Mammy

Baby’s crying—
I can’t feel my legs
Baby’s crying—
Six months since I bled
Baby’s crying—
Mista’s just left the room
Baby’s crying—
Missus comes with the broom
Baby’s crying!
She screams as she swings
Baby’s crying—
My swollen womb stings
Baby’s crying;
I rise to my chore
Baby’s crying,
as mine drips to the floor.