Notes in the Margin

To find our Black history, 
search libraries and courthouses. 

There, relegated to slave records 
to property ledgers. Note: 

just below animals: mules, horses, and cows. 
Beneath objects: farm equipment and household goods. 

Witness even in this tight space
how we are not fastened to the page. 

Understand our ancestors’ feet did the talking. 
We’re lost in these vast erased spaces. 

Hear silenced voices and lives

Consult the field. 
Hear it say: I got more rest than they did

Blood cries out, so listen to the lynching tree. 
Ask why does it lean? Let the whipping post tell it. 

It speaks in tongues of slash and deep gash.
Smell the wounds turned to puss. Don’t turn your head. 

See Black backs calligraphed with grief and anger. 
Measure the distance between cabin and big house, 

but feel the canyon in between. 
See daytime and nighttime through cabin slats. 

Know cold and heat intimately. Hear bellies growl.
See chains or no chains but kept anyhow. 

What of their names? You get a price. Numbers. Profit. 
You might get a cook, a seamstress, a blacksmith, or a field hand. 

With a little luck and a little grace, you are blessed 
To find a relic to press to your dream memory upon. 

Conjure like a griot. Stir the pot. 
Keep it hot. 

Say enslaved not slave. What was done, 
was done unto us: shackle and chain. 

African proverb: until the lion writes
every story will glorify the hunter. 

Grow teeth and claw. Prey with Pen. 
Write in this vein. In this terror. 

In this glory. 

Reprinted from Praise Songs for Dave the Potter: Art and Poetry for David Drake, edited by P. Gabrielle Foreman. Copyright © 2023 Glenis Redmond. Reprinted with permission of University of Georgia Press.