For Ruben Ahoueya
Today in America people were bought and sold:
five hundred for a “likely Negro wench.”
If someone at auction is worth her weight in gold,
how much would she be worth by pound? By ounce?
If I owned an unimaginable quantity of wealth,
could I buy an iota of myself?
How would I know which part belonged to me?
If I owned part, could I set my part free?
It must be worth something—maybe a lot—
that my great-grandfather, they say, killed a lion.
They say he was black, with muscles as hard as iron,
that he wore a necklace of the claws of the lion he’d fought.
How much do I hear, for his majesty in my blood?
I auction myself. And I make the highest bid.
I brought here, in a bag between my breasts,
Money from mama’s friend, who had bought herself,
Then saved enough, by working without rest,
To free four friends. This woman gave me her wealth
Of carefully folded dollars so I could take
Miss Crandall’s course of study. And within a week
Of my arrival, I was summoned to appear in court.
The judge ruled I’d have to pay a fine, depart,
Or be whipped naked.
Honey, the first white fool
That thinks he gone whip me better think again.
Touch me and you’ll draw back a nub, white man.
I ain’t payin’, and I’m stayin’.
People’s dreams brought me to this school.
I’m their future, in a magic looking glass.
That judge and the councilmen can kiss my rusty black.
Miss Crandall, you stand accused of knowingly
teaching colored persons not resident of the state,
without prior consent. What is your plea?
The Teacher does not instruct. The Teacher waits.
Girl, has anyone been teaching anything to you and your friends?
Who taught you how to plead the Fifth Amendment?
Your honor, I submit as evidence
of the alleged teachings of alleged students
this colored girl here, who openly reads books
and gazes skyward, who has been overheard
conversing animatedly in polysyllabic words
and referring off-handedly to the Ancient Greeks.
The Teacher teaches, without words and without action,
simplicity, patience, and compassion.
After Hadewijch ofAnvers, thirteenth century.
If your days swirled to chaos, wouldn’t you turn
to someone on whose shoulder you could weep?
St. Paul says it’s better to marry than to burn.
Wouldn’t you choose the solace of escape
into the brief banquet of tenderness?
My widowed minister, with three motherless
children; my dear, whom my friends think is odd.
(some even think my Calvin may be mad):
What is gentlest in love is love’s violence.
Losing yourself in love, you reach love’s goal.
Love makes you suffer, as love makes you whole.
Love steals your everything and makes you rich.
Love is both meaningless and poetry.
Captured by love, by love you are set free.