Sunday 22 September 2013

Sunday Poem

Exhibit 9: Tablecloth 
In coffles they come, coughing, onto sloops, schooners, brigs, snows. On houses with wings! On snows! In Liverpool, snow falls on snows; in Manchester, it falls into the river Irk, onto chilblained hands.

At the Castle, Governors Mould and Corps drink punch. The jungle encroaches. By next midwinter, the road will be gone again. And look at this cloth. White muslin, some fancy flower in the centre. A lily perhaps? What once were folds are now just holes, holes and holes. Below them, the table, stockings crawling with ants, the slave-hole. Above, a blue sky. Vultures on guns honeycombed with rust rise up to shriek their greetings. Hello, Hello. Here come the snows. 

Exhibit 13: Cask 
Scow-bankers, beach horners, wharfingers: they haunt every port, brown-gummed and blind, spewing black blood. Bruises splotches of ink on grey paper. Gone the mouth, gone the legs, gone the sunburnt nose. Limp down this green road. I'll know thee by thine eyes.

The fog horn blows. Mersey Men unload barrels, shovel sugar, heave cotton bales. And in Bridgetown, Kingston, Roseau, sailors shiver and sweat. They huddle under derricks, hands curled over rotting toes. Crawl into this empty cask, sugar grit against the skin.

Everything is green here. Sweet sop trees, hibiscus for your true love's hair. The fog lifts. Heave away boys, heave away.

Exhibit 17: Photograph, Negro 
And ye shall know them by their fruits. Lumps on his leg, a clump of grapes. Apple-peel curve of “C” hot-branded on her cheek. Or this negro's blackberry bramble! Branches up towards his neck, purple shine against spine.

Grapes shot, volleyed in the humid air. Cocoa-nut cream, mint juleps, ladies rock in wicker chairs.

Do men gather grapes of thorns? Across the sea, bog cotton, purple heather, bees in clover. Upland cotton in airless rooms. Factory hands have arms and we have cut his off. We've made mammon from the marrow of his bones.

Exhibit 29: Jar 
This is, after all, a new world. Iron brands, bands laid across meadow, fallow field. They say cow's milk'll turn sour at the sound. They say the speed will crush your lungs. They say you could lie a sleeper line of mangled legs along this track. Wheels turn, the hare flees, rain falls in sheets. Over a hundred bales of cotton in her sides. We left Liverpool this morning. Some years back, there were signs in its windows: Silver Locks and Collars for Blacks and Dogs.

We'll reach Cottonopolis next. The train's greased with palm oil. See it shine.

The gun goes off. Scramble! Bodies shine. Slaves run, fling themselves overboard and are seized again. And later, we'll take this palm oil, this gold in a glass, and spread it on our trains and on our bread for tea.

Exhibit 33: Muslin Dress 
So here are lines of torn trees, dragged out by the roots. Lines of redmen and squaws, curved line of babies on backs. Ragged line of footprints in snow.

Coffle line of negroes, sent to clear land then fill it. Line of cotton in the field. Line of the lash. Twenty-five if the line of a leaf makes its way into the clouds of cotton. Twenty-five if the line of a branch is broken in the field.

There's that straight line the gun makes, the angle made with the torso when the arm is stretched out. The lines in the slave pen. The lines their fingers make as he moves them back and forth, to see how they'll pick cotton.

Here are the railway lines and there are the shipping lines. Here's the factory line. The line of children in the mines. The chimney lines. There is the line: from the cotton gin to the Indian.

The lines she's memorized, the lines of her white muslin dress, the way it falls in folds to the ground. Soft rustle and hush. For a moment, it's as if all lines stop here.
From Cottonpolis (2013) by Rachel Lebowitz 

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