North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green – “A Ransom of Bones”


a ransom of bones
these bones these bones touch them gently for their blackness have been
known to pick the locks of hidden rooms empty rooms open doors I have been this
way before passing is the exotic foreigner denying the color of my gloved
hands turning away from the dead incantation of slaves their voices
rising heaving through my throat almost telling my secret o spirit blow on me a
slave wind a night of stolen rapture bleeding my name from this river where
blood is born o spirit ritualized the collapse of a black woman sap like the
annual flow of the birch interrupted by white man’s decision
o spirit forgive me for the unfurling of unfamiliar fabric and unfamiliar rooms
that forbid morning to enter I am the one locked away the one paid for and
foreign currency the currency of deceit 500 peso a year to change the water at
the altar 500 peso a year to remember to forget a slave mother dying crying
veiled tears my spirit returns crossing dark slave thresholds speaking through
muted smoke before collapsing beneath my mother’s fire I have lost track of my
secret in this day I have lost track of the all other skin
I’ve known I’ve worn the calluses of my sins become sweet whispered drama for
the keepers of the secret I have swallowed all the keys to all the doors
that keep me oh spirit touch these bones gently when they appear as screams
crossing borders singing dirges in familiar tongues revenge sacrifice I
travel to this myth of home as transparent as faith as transparent as
the myth of white face white neck white arms white thighs transparent as blue
eyes 500 peso a year for the privilege to whisper but the swallowed keys jingle
threatened to strangle me with the story of betrayal the story of a black girl
who walked through the love light of her mother’s eyes becoming the story of a
white woman living on the edges of night 500 pace over year 500 peso a year I pay
my own skin for the price of a key a room a rape a birth 500 piece of a year
500 pace over year 500 peso a year I pay for this nourishment the spicy soup of
ante bellum I pay to commit these sins of the tongue to keep me white alive
locked away in freedom’s dusty cubicle locked away inside someone else’s
journey 500 peso a year to anoint these bone
with the secret sigh we’ve to reseal the lock protect the unfurling unfamiliar
fabric of memory 500 peso a year to grow old sit behind gloves become the
bondsman’s daughter counting to tornadoes I will unleash painting my
lips with the colors of somewhere else Oh spirit bury these bones under a
forgiving sky feed them the holiness of sunlight the holiness of breath 500 peso
a year 500 pesos a year to sharpen my nipples there are language memories of
another freedom waits for the return of the bondsman 500 pace of a year to lock
away what it is he must never remember the darkness of my body
offering up questions he can not answer the darkness of words that spill all
over floors stained chairs eat into curtains paint the walls with the tongue
of his seed i Julie pay to write and pay and write these other betrayals to kiss
memory back into my bones these bones these bones touch them
gently for they have been known to dig themselves into sky under skin turn
light into sharp crystals walk across fire turning the denial of blackness
into noose tight intact still within reach
breathing disguised as River needing a new rents thank you

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