“New Negroes” by Marvin Artis

Marvin Artis


Or saltwater negroes is what they called African
slaves who had been in America for less
than two months, about the length of time
it took slavery to break them. New negroes spoke
no English, were more prone to rebellion and running
away than the others. When they escaped,
slave catchers and Native Americans were rewarded
more money for capturing them the longer
they had been free. They were given the best money
if they brought back their scalps with the ears attached
to be displayed to the others with great effect.

Fatima, one of the new negroes, had grown
accustomed to ears and scalps dangling
from sticks speared into the ground.
What she found unbearable was the sun,
shyly rising each day, smoothing a reluctant smile
across her face before gently stroking her eyelids awake,
then brutally bearing down on her by midday,
flattening every inch of her into the numbest,
dumbest person in the world, and the soil,
cool and moist underneath, that tricked her daily
when she was delirious with exhaustion into thinking her hands
were in a river where she was preparing to bathe herself.
Before she knew it, she disrobed each day at dusk in the middle
of the field until a compassionate hand woke her.

The sun that caresses then bludgeons the soil that
carries a river and bodies forgetting to feel and then
remembering the night that keeps coming and the light
that keeps returning.

from Rattle #64, Summer 2019


Marvin Artis: “I think one of the things I’m most interested in, in poetry, is the opportunity to connect things that don’t appear to be connected. To bring my own disparate parts together and to also build that infrastructure internally, and then be able to apply that to my relationships with other people. The more connections I can find between disconnected things, the better my connections are with others.”

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