- An American Diptych, and: Amid Interruptions, Samuel A. Cartwright Pontificates about Drapetomania to a Friend over Fine Dining, New Orleans, June 1851
An American Diptych
The way to right wrongs is to shine the light of truth on them.—Ida B. Wells
1.after a broadside ad for a runaway slave on August 4, 1853
Everything Emily owns in the worldshe wears on her 17-year-old backor carries in her northbound sack:one gingham bonnet with a red cord,
one dark calico, one blue and white dress,one pair of slippers, one white-striped shawl.Tho’s H. Williams, in his Kentucky drawl,dictates her belongings to me at his desk,
saying he’ll give $100 to anyone who bringsmy Black Woman and her well grown hips home(although we both know she kicks like a coltwhen forced to do something
she doesn’t want to doand shrieks like a barn owl at the moon).
2.after an untitled photograph of a Klan March in Gainesville, Georgia, September 5, 1992
When my boy toddled down the street,marching in stride with us Winder Knights,robed in white, wearing his proud hat,cape down his back like Batman(that’s what I told him when he foughtme this morning—at first, tied up in knots,then fidgeting, face turning beet red,whining he couldn’t catch his breath),
I saw him—Josh, the son I pushed like hellto get out of me (all that blood on pastelsheets!)—approach a cop (black dressed in bluelike a bruise, watching his every move),then spot his own small face in the riot shield,and (he couldn’t resist) touch it, for real. [End Page 334]
Amid Interruptions, Samuel A. Cartwright Pontificates about Drapetomania to a Friend over Fine Dining, New Orleans, June 1851
Ah, yes, I’m so glad you asked about that. We do sharecommon interests, don’t we? Probably because you and Iboth know the good Lord made the Negroes
to bend their knees to us in obedience to the Word.And we, in turn, feed and clothe them, offer fuelfor their fire, and provide a place for them to live.
The work we give them helps them feel a senseof purpose. We cannot defy the Almighty by lettingthem think more highly of themselves than they ought.
Amen? Amen. (no, no more wine. that’ll be fine, thank you.)As I was saying, we must not encourage them to dreamabout working their own fields, or, God forbid, to read and write.
When we do, I hypothesize, we inspire flights (peach pie?how can I refuse?) of, of, yes, there’s the word, fancythat confuse them cruelly, since they have a nature
not unlike that of a new-born infant of the white race.1So we allow them evenings with their families, yes, we do.We push them hard, true, but they bear the rays of the sun
better than we. We whip them before they raisetheir voices in protest, but only then—for that cancure dysaesthesia aethiopica, too, and stir the skin
into the sensitivity it lacks. (right you are, good sir, my scienceis sound. indeed—this is no germ theory! ha!)Where was I? Ah, yes, so our moderation—borne of love—
casts a preventative spell. Otherwise, the impulse to wanderoverruns them like miasma poisons the night air,spreading disease everywhere. (oh, very good to see you
this balmy evening as well!) And then, then they deceivethemselves into believing liberty affordssomething more than the hunger and helplessness
that’d await them. But I agree with you: the worstof the rascals do run, afflicted as they are with this unnaturalvagabondage. So what can we do? (yes, indeed, tomorrow
and tomorrow, I will—first thing!) When the patrol returnsthe fugitives to your hands, remedy the illness permanently:Cut off their big toes. That will foil their frustration forever.
Julie L. Moore is a Best of the Net and six-time Pushcart Prize nominee, and the author of four poetry...