One May night,
back where the first Dutch ship landed
two hundred forty-two years before . . .
I say one May night
longlonglonglonglong after that ship departed
and sold a magic number of coffee coloured folks
near the mouth of a bay named Chesapeake . . .
. . . Descendents
I say descendents of that unfortunate number:
James, Frank and another man named Shepard,
dared row themselves back to the edge of land
that welcomed their progenitors, in chains.
They rowed in star-spangled darkness,
with banners o’er their hearts —
Banners their paler brothers replicated.
Banners that fooled these last, and
turned them into blood-hungry hunters
as soon as the sun re-emerged.
Confident by law
Life and liberty they owned
They took it from other bodies,
And this trio, I say this trio
the lead hunter found as no exception to the rule,
So he saddled his horse and rode easy and erect
as he would on his re-claimed chattel. After all,
life and liberty cannot ornament fools.
Now, that May night, under the sparkling black heavens,
“Give me liberty, or give me death,” not one man quoted out loud,
But above their hearts the banner floated, and it could be heard,
I say that motto could be heard above and below the surface
as each paddle plunged into the trembling water
and the wooden boat skipped across Chesapeake Bay.
The three could not see the circle fate held open, and they
could not see it come close to closed in that strategic bay.
They could see only visions . . .
I say they could see only visions as shore came into view:
Visions of their freed selves on the rippled, moonlit water
strutting freely ashore, far away from the Tar Heel State,
And all thanks to that rocking little boat . . .
A little boat that seemed as pleased to prevent their sale
as to refine with its motion their troubled constitutions.
But their flight was not theirs alone,
I say their flight was of holy order;
And open to be read as in olden days
By seers who read the stars
the wind and the bones, and sent others . . .
I say just as James, Frank and Shepard were sent
Northward to Butler’s wharf,
Others were sent to hail
Not a garrison’s night guard, but freedom!
And once they picked up that freedom
they made a promise,
I say they made a promise then and there
Never again to let it go.
Note: Inspired by Adam Goodheart’s article in the The New York Times, April 01, 2011, entitled: “How Slavery Really Ended in America.”