Editor’s Choice Award
When chains ferried us across the Atlantic
In hell’s belly they swore we were demons & devils
But the auctioneer’s ramblings
Made us vanish like 1,2,3. See you now
See you won’t, where you are where I won’t
We manifested with the Holy Ghost
In Grandma’s bedroom. Cream turban clad prophetess
Weathered cheeks piercing gray eyes
Speaking strange tongues
Across the Tides
The cool polished floor feels foreign,
Like returning to the earth.
My umber-colored toes find their balance
As I squat in the West African dance studio.
It’s the dance of the slaves at Igbo landing
Who face the watery depths of death.
Step by step their chains ring out until
Swallowed by the navy waves.
I stick my right foot out
As though testing the waters
Before extending the whole
Leg in a leaping stride.
The rhythm of the djembe
Helps me catch myself in time
And like a springbok.
I lurch forward again eluding
The arrow. The water will ferry
Me to freedom; to the undying sands.
The drummer strikes the djembe
With his cedar-colored first like
The metal of John Henry’s hammer.
The clanking grows louder as the pairs of
Ebony ankles and wrists saunter in unison.
Sweat pours down my forehead and crawls
Down to the confines of the lapa secured
Around my waist.
Closer and closer I get to the edge
And one, two, three the waves take
Me to until the clanking dies.
They say Black people are skinwalkers
Transforming sackcloth to suits and furs
They berate us for clouds of weed
Must think we’re dynamite if we hit a flame.
They say don’t drink the Kool Aid—
That Black Jesus gives, then they hand
Out crowns of thorns and crow with crackers
I won’t jump on their cross nor carry it
Because my soul, they can’t bury it.