recovered letter from Obour Tanner
To Phillis Wheatley in Boston [Massachusetts]
New Port, February 6th, 1772
I'm a savage. There is a savage-me inside, wild-thick as sin, so much, my Soul
is clabbered, but there is a Change, I sense, inside my curdled mess, Christ hung
and crucified in me, daily, a Saving Change. The ship. Do you feel the ship, pitching,
sometimes, inside the skin under your skin -chanting- as the Atlantic whispered,
lulling us, fluid as hymn and semen, in wet languages we couldn't understand?
Remember the ships
that brought us over the bent world. Let us praise these wooden beasts that saved
the evil beast of us. Do you remember the ship, Phillis, do you remember rocking...
the rocking black milk, like I do? Remember the bowels from the reek
inside the deathly ship? There was nothing in us to recommend us to God,
except the bowels of divine love. Remember inky black, starless black,
blue-black with moaning, smelled like salt and salvation: God's skin hammered
with long nails like our breath, bleeding.
But we converted—we have been saved by a Saving
Change: my Heart is a true snow-white-snow Heart, Of true Holiness, pure
as buttermilk, evangelical as buttermilk. But Repentance can save our people
from a land of seeming Darkness, and where the divine Light of revelation
(being cloaked) is as Darkness. What was darker than the bowels of that ship
you were named after, do you remember Phillis, how black, black is?
The mold? Our sin, the trigger—that mist was on everything, fuzzing our damp
little bodies with spores, encircling the air, emerald rust crawled and blossomed
inside our young lungs—it coughs and rackets the bright blood from us, like a claw
scraping, no, like soft applause from the balcony for the swarthy to sit upon
during church, like when we met, I was a dozen broken roses, bruised as velvet,
English and reaching desire for you,
across the pews, across the vast|empty spaces, where two slaves
(who could read and write) could touch—each other—there, as women
and call it: Praise.
Let us marvel at the Love and Grace that bought
and brought us here. Amen.
Your very humble servant and friend,