Caesars and Dreamers

The pharaohs of rice and indigo, the conniving
Caesars of cotton,

what were we to them?
Profitable: able

bodies from Barbados
and the Windward Coast,

the Rice Coast,
our souls ramshackle,

less than a rooster’s
or a rock’s.

And yet, in painstaking fields,
in joyous praise houses,

our tenacious “Go Down, Moses,”
our stirring, rallying

“In the beauty of the lilies
Christ was born across the sea . . .”

might have served as proof
to those zealous Southern despots

that we possessed
some quilt scrap of God.

Go tell those greed-swayed
kings of sugar, those implacable

princes of tobacco,
how we garnered freedom

in our hardscrabble dreams,
sang it as sweat-drenched,

unshakable hallelujah,
whispered it as healing salve

to allay the defiling
stripes on our backs.

Unstinting overseer,
iron-eyed Caesar,

who better to define freedom
than a slave?

From The Gospel according to Wild Indigo (Southern Illinois University Press, 2018) by Cyrus Cassells. Copyright © 2018 by Cyrus Cassells. Used with the permission of the author.