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By Narcissa Lyons

Note to reader – This was written maybe 15 years ago but sadly now rather more relevant

 

Dark, green leaves and sticky heat,

Dewy tendrils caressing bugs—

That’s what is this jungle,

This bed of wild and danger.

We left the ship for this fresh stench,

For this dense and sense of stranger.

What they said we’d find we found

And thus we are en garde.

We’ve met strength that looks like men

But oddlier, foreign.

Primitive mumblings.

Creatures are these,

Creatures indeed.

One might say they’re sleekish

Due to the sweaty black,

But conclude in fact it’s freakish

To be so bloody black.

Before their capture what we beheld!

It’s wild, berserk and rhythmic!

No subtlety and no finesse,

No demonstrated sanity,

And no requisite vanity.

Such movements…..

Animals stand as men.

They’re not bangles, maybe so

But the beasts need mighty measures.

Hence a shackle here—

Hence a shackle there.

Who wouldn’t do the s(h)ame?

Some cried when we took them;

So human the tears that fell.

Too the shrieks and too the screams

Prove the beasthood we beheld.

Their chicanery might have cost us.

Such a human ruse, daunting.

But we carry on.

Bravely.

Fairly.

Scant cruelty.

Rough seas, mean rains, rare sun

Make weary sailors vapid.

Some excuses for abuses

We regret, bewail, don’t quite condone.

Anchors down, the shores are reached—

We’ve most of us survived.

Our beasts in chains seem tentative,

Hesitant and lost.

Their mutterings are quieter,

Glances less than angry.

That lion’s fight is not yet gone

But eyes can’t lid defeat.

Some of us now cheerier—

Nay, we’re almost martyrs.

We will give these blacks a home!

Give these blacks some means!

They’ll not have to forage

In pesky damp and risk.

They’ll do some simple work

And such for simple fare.

The climate would be similar—

A nod and a wink, good job.

They’d surely get familiar–

Handshakes all around.

Yes, we were feeling kind,

Ignored the vague nausea,

Sweat-drenched dreams.

Our duty is now done.

Back again to farther shores.

We will need thousands

Of these newly tethered,

Newly welcomed hands.

II

I own a vastness

And I’ve bought some fine fettered men,

Though I’ve never seen the like

(And it’s not that I dislike).

Big and black and strong—

Fierce, I think, and sly.

A few are even beautiful

And some seem downright keen.

They’re from the deeps of Africa,

The center of splendor gone crude.

Most of them obey

But most of them resent.

Punishment

Punishment

Punishment

Is not absent.

One must enforce the rules.

Since much like beast,

A whip is just that must,

And my stand-up peers agree,

Nod their heads, “of course”.

By and by we get along.

They understand their place,

Come to terms with race.

These beings are not fiends,

Just not quite you and I.

And the female variety

Offers satiety.

Fetching–

Alluring—

Devious.

(I know it’s what she intended).

Tension is filling our days.

Those that don’t know

Question this show

And are forcing our noble hands.

And I will fight fight fight

For what is right.

What is right.

What is right?

The land is turning red.

Blood seeps into branches

And stains the sky.

Misery, misery

Is a swath.

Where is comfort for this honest man?

A deluge of battle—

An unwieldy war—

And illness that reckons with evil.

How did this begin

For the slightest sin?

But now I’ve said the wretched word.

It could have been a sin.

These could in fact be men.

No conviction in fighting,

I offer this waving white.

I offer late freedom

To my awkward companions.

III

My sweet, black Maisy

Has been with us some time.

We’re a border state,

But have no hate

For this strong yet gentle kind.

Maisy can be trusted.

She’s got her own to tend.

She may not be clever,

But I’ve begun teaching

And her eyes are very sharp—

Seeking, absorbing, resolute,

The beginning of quietly smart.

As I said,

She has her own clan.

Her fair husband Jeffrey

Is our other hand,

And her little ones play afield.

While ours are thus concealed.

I’ve thought of them mingling—

Children are children.

But what if some essence

Of which I know not

Goes into the minds of my young?

Goes quietly creeping and thusly infecting?

Yes, we are so alike

But I’m no clairvoyant!

What I can’t see

May still exist,

And if it’s vile

Then we are undone,

Probably perished I fear.

Still they wish to frolic,

My little ones and her little imps.

I finally broke and they played.

My eyes were braced for naught,

Will O’ Wisp poised,

And hand at the ready.

But

Strifeless, harmless amblings.

Tripping, bubbling, mimicking.

And Maisy just smiled and knew.

Assumption or presumption?

I will not admit wisdom.

Yet this is trivia, trivia.

Cursed rumblings bother the righteous.

White sheeted men

Mean harm

Mean hate

Mean blood.

We lost Maisy’s man to treachery.

The night rife with screams

That since have my dreams

Been causing the ruin of days.

Those triangle men

Tied him and beat him

And put torch to the home of these friends.

Ended him

Without even seeing him end.

We watched in shame as he died.

Maisy saw me weep,

But her eyes held no pity

And even a trace

Of “You too are guilty”.

What good was that bloody war

If now cowards might cloak such hate?

More north still we must

To be rid of this lust.

We can’t escape it, but shall avoid it,

This atrocity, monstrosity, truth.

IV

Mother, said John, Jimmy’s my best friend.

Yes, Mother said, so what of it then?

Well, why’s he not in school?

Gosh John, they’ve different rules.

But Mother, he should be learning.

He’s learning but somewhere else.

Well, said John, then I’ll go there.

No you won’t and don’t you dare.

But Mother this makes no sense.

It does, his school is special.

Is that what’s really fair?

It’s true that it’s separate,

But it’s also nearly equal.

Mother, said John, why’s Jimmy way in back?

Because we are in the front.

Well then I’ll go back there.

No you won’t and don’t you dare.

How about Jimmy next to me?

That makes no sense, be still.

But this is nuts, he’s my best friend.

And the same he’ll be at this ride’s end.

V

1965

Took awhile, but has arrived.

Roses and Parks,

Lovely the image—

So that’s the end of that

(at least the legal facts).

VI

Two men playing basketball,

Sweating and shining—

Jostling and spinning.

Black and white rubbing skin,

Black and white exchanging grins.

Shoot the ball,

Defend it.

Love the game,

And honor it.

Both men clanking drinks

And talking manly tripe.

Constant nods and I-know-what-you-means.

Heeding, but viscous vision,

Seeking dames or any action—

The boys don’t see

The you and color me.

“Nor should that be.”

Agreed and then some.

How long we been friends?

“Too long, but this is cool.”

Know it is you fool.

“So what happened long ago,

And do you need compensation?

Would that be our salvation?”

Too late, too late you simpleton,

The time, it is at hand.

We’re close, we’re friends, we’re pals,

But we must, we should, we have to.

“I must ask–

Since that is past–,

Why is us a must?”

Look around you, white boy–

There’s a brewing on the rise.

Too much Spanish Brown

Is in our next sunrise.