Strokes of the Tamarind Switch

I dared not look at him, 
My eyes with tears were dim, 
   My spirit filled with hate
     Of man’s depravity, 
I hurried through the gate. 

I went but I returned, 
While in my bosom turned 
   The monstrous wrong that we 
       Oft bring upon ourselves, 
And yet we cannot see. 

Poor little erring wretch!
The cutting tamarind switch
   Had left its bloody mark,
      And on his legs were streaks. 
   That looked like boiling bark. 

I spoke to him the while: 
At first he tried to smile, 
   But the long pent-up tears
      Came gushing in a flood; 
   He was but of tender years. 

With eyes bloodshot and red, 
He told me of a father dead 
   And lads like himself rude, 
     Who goaded him to wrong:
    He for the future promised to be good. 

The mother yesterday 
Said she was sending him away, 
   Away across the seas:
      She told of futile prayers
   Said on her wearied knees. 

I wished the lad good-bye, 
And left him with a sigh:
   Again I heard him talk—
      His limbs, he said, were sore, 
   He could not walk. 

I ’member when a smaller boy, 
A mother’s pride, a mother’s joy, 
    I too was very rude:
        They beat me too, though not the same,  
    And has it done me good? 


From Songs of Jamaica (Aston W. Gardner & Co., 1912) by Claude McKay. This poem is in the public domain.