- Past-life portrait
machete, circa 1791
my widest mouth hungriest in morning breakfast a staccato thwack clacking stalks of canesugar my smiling blade but teeth sharpeningthemselves against the sweet dull thud of routinerusty renegades of serrated jag thirstyonder fields set ablaze in rebellion—smokeblackening sky beckoning a thousand mouthslike me, but alas, i remain—in boredomi scalp dandelions, split plantains in twowhack my way through gorgeous ripe watermelonbut neither its flesh nor juice seduces me—when the hands come to handle me clumsilyi flail toward lower ground threatening toesdusty teeth lusting not for sound but blood
whip, circa 1793
elongated tongue—calfskin tanned tautlifeless muscle becomes momentumthe moment the hand speaks seekingflesh a succession of licksa streak dizzying crisscrossthe back sings of bloodrecoil and delicious stingringing out a warning across fieldsno one feared the cow raped of her milkslaughtered hides weathered into leatherwhile the natives feasted on steak but at leastthis second life, this freedomall feeling even at the hands of others— a glory of sorts
circa 1787, Negroes’ Burying Ground, Lower Manhattan
The resurrectionistssmell unsettled ground—a sun-wilted lily’ssweet reek
a newly nailed pine boxsticky with shellacmoldy funk of a borrowedblack suit, the perfumed [End Page 435]
pomatum—the bodyunearthed undresseda fresh wound embalmeda son, wilted lilies—
What lies inside a nigger?
Are the lungs birdcages filled with feathers?
Are the bones magic wands of calcium and rhythm?
Can the blood’s iron smith a hammerhead?
Is the throat lined with gold? [End Page 436]
t’ai freedom ford is a New York City high school English teacher, Cave Canem fellow, and Pushcart Prize nominee. Her poetry has appeared in Drunken Boat, Sinister Wisdom, The Feminist Wire, PLUCK! and others. t’ai lives in Brooklyn, but hangs out digitally at shesaidword.com.