And here I met a fellow-being and a fellow countryman,
with as good title to freedom as myself.
—Elihu Burritt's Journal, Nov. 27, 1846
Late November, London, guttering day-
light, you return to your unlit
room too cheap for comfort, to find
a stranger, darker shadow hunched
over the fire: jaws
too clenched to say his name: black
stowaway from a slave-block
in the mint-julep Home of the Free,
no, it's his ragged calico
that hangs coatwise, still dripping
bilge-green seawater in puddles.
Of your two overcoats, you offer him
the better, easing his locked
elbows into free sleeves.
Your old mournful hat, as well—
you've just bought yourself
a new one, and who on God's good earth
needs the luxury of two
of anything? A man travels lighter
for what he gives willingly away.
The old body lies naked
on a hospital bed. Its skin
is ashen with the blue tattoo
of veins; anklebone and elbow,
vertebrae like calibrations
down the spine, a chart
for anyone to read.
Doctor, nurses, daughter
and a creditor or two. Priest
arrives too late to cure
the septicemia of sin. At least
7000-plus commissions, as many
gentle acts omitted. Someone
asks how much, exactly,
was he worth? A lawyer
punches in the figures—
insolvency in digital display.
of solitude. What angel
black or bright
comes to snatch this
Copyright 2River. Please do not use or reproduce without permission.
|The 2River View||Authors Poems PDF Archives 2River|