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Callaloo 24.4 (2001) 947-952

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The Greenwood Cycle


1. Conjure

I thought I was dreaming,
when I saw the sky fulla' black smoke,
but I wasn't, no, 'cause I pinched myself
and it hurt
and I knew we were gonna suffer
for somebody's sinfullness.
"Just like Jesus," you said, Mama,
when you screamed
"run, daughter, run,
white men are comin', they got guns."
I said, "I see 'em, Mama, I see,
they ridin' up and down the street
throwin' torches on rooftops, on porches
on the poor Negro trying to pray
while the flames eat him up
they so hungry.
Mama, we can't get away."
"Run on, daughter," you cried, "hide if you can
from the white devil,"
but he wasn't no devil, he was a man
and he was evil, yes, he was,
but he wasn't supernatural,
he didn't have no power to conjure like I do,
when I conjure you,
crying, "don't look back, or you'll turn to ashes
and fall down among the dead in Greenwood."

Now I'm alone
and I don't say nothing 'bout it to nobody,
just fix me a hot toddy
and sit rocking in my rocker
and think about you, Mama,
turned to dust [End Page 947]
wrapped in a dirty sheet
with a body lying on top.
"It ain't Christian, is it," you whisper,
"to be murdered like this and just forgot?"
I rock in time
to the tick tock of the grandfather clock
you dragged from the burning house,
because it was your daddy's,
give to him by the old master
when your daddy got freedom.
For some reason, it didn't burn up
just charred a bit,
a piece of wood pried off it.
When I got up the money,
I went and bought it off the junkman,
who thought it was worth something.
It was, but only to me,
rusted, permanently stopped
at the hour and the minute
that cost me you.

2. Sanctuary

"Is the world on fire?"

--Sister of Mr. Beard, survivor

I said, "brother, the world's on fire."
He said, "liar,"
but Daddy said, "y'all climb on up higher
in that tree so only God can see you,
not me, or the white man running thisa' way,
guns blazing, burning up everything.
Can't see nothing through the smoke,
can't breathe, choking like I got two hands
around my throat.
Je-e-e-sus, Je-e-e-sus."
"Brother," I whispered and he said, "hush,"
as a hot wind rustled the leaves
and the white man ran past,
screaming something about niggers and too much--
"What'd he say, brother?" I asked, [End Page 948]
but he turned away.
"Lookayonder," I heard him say,
just as a loud crack and a popping sound
got mixed up in my head.
When I climbed down that old tree, I said,
"brother, are you dead?"
He just stared at me,
then outta nowhere someone grabbed my hair.
Daddy had braided it for me that morning
and tied a ribbon on it
and said, "I'm warning you don't take it off"
and I didn't, but it come off anyway,
when the hand jerked too hard
and got a fist fulla red ribbon
and I started running myself.
Wasn't nobody else but me around after 'while
in the dark, back in the back of somebody's house,
I mean underneath it,
where a dog was hiding too.
It was a hound dog with two pups.
You know how mean a new mother can be,
but she didn't growl, or nothing,
just gave me the eye
and went on back to nursing
and didn't do nothing when I got real close
and stroked her fur and closed my eyes.
I woke to her sighs.
The pups' eyes weren't open yet,
but they moved their heads
when I started to crawl outta hiding,
but then I heard crying, I heard a shot
and moved on back
and got close to the dog and those pups.
I knew from...


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