barely breathing

Birthdays are special to me.  I like to think of unique ways to celebrate, creating memories to help me mark time and remember the gifts of wisdom, life and time.  Sometimes I get close, like the 14 day cruise for my 50th, 6 months after my birthday.  The gift to myself was memorable, as was the ocassion.  Other times, I miss the mark and find myself on a plane or worse yet stuck in an airport.  And then, there are those moments when the Universe conspires in way that are beyond planning.

This year, I was in Jamaica, the land of my birth for my birthday.  I was there for a hearing on the legacies of slavery and yet it was a special time for me.  As we heard testimony, I was struck by the ways in which inferiority and self-hatred were fed to enslaved people and their descendants.  I am convinced this is a disease that must be eradicated if African descendant people are to be free, fully emancipated in body, mind and spirit.

Among the many gifts received was this poem which I co-authored with a dear brother Keon Heywood from Guyana.  The poem was written two days after we met as participants in the hearing.  “barely breathing” was given to us on the breath of the Ancestors, and was witnessed by the trees as we sat on the porch, capturing the words as they came.  (The video is at the end of the post).

barely breathing
crossings and musings
souls stirring
swimming sounds
of drums
drowning
this pain
redeeming their souls
telling our truth
here is breathing

I want to write history
I have stories to tell
stories
with no gilded edges
with no ending planned
stories of shame
stories of death
stories of wrongs ignored
stories of life beyond the sea
here is breathing

memories of trees
manifesting the Divine
in their leaves
met with violence
axe to trunk
transporting people
stacked as logs
there leaves
another ship
blessed by their God
cursing our souls
who are we?

these are not fairy tales
yet they tell of
Once upon a time
in a faraway land
full of sunshine
when royalty
was Black
Kings and Queens
building wealth without castles
loving our black skin
kissed by the sun
set gems
like moon light
leaning on the water
here is breathing

walking in power
at one with the earth
reading time
in the dust
hearing rain
in the silence
the future carried on the wind
the voice of the Mystery
heard in the drums
drunk on wisdom sublime
here is breathing

no superficiality to express
to will myself to experience you
Black faces
Black voices
God is black
seen in me
created in Divine image
Black as me
I am no orphan
a child of these Kings and Queens
sold by a depraved theology
brought to a wilderness
no drums
appeasing this torture
here is breathing

beyond the sea
at home among the dead
named as animal
trotting out
at the whim of the other
trotting in
to their deprived communities
whips
absent of love
bruises
absent of grace
rape
absent of this God
they said was so great
what then of me?
stay in suffocation?
no air to breathe

whey di card ah go draw
for a church built on lies
friends of all
neutral in silence
promoting the supremacy of one
praising a God white
missionaries stepping up
affirming the conditions
of the enslaved
sanctioning land grabs
exploiting Black lives
robbing Black identity
no breath in this Body

whey di card ah go draw
for a church built on Empire
missing social capital
sipping sugared coffee and tea
selling pie in the sky
to transported Ancestors
grabbing at gold
grasping at glory
grappling with God
a corrupt cocktail
of a hierarchal system
drunk on power
bloated with greed
beaten with the Bible
to ensure obedience
strangling our souls
where is the Life?

beyond the sea
there is me
Black skin
shining in the sun
sanity questioned
because I dare to question
being locked up
locked in to the madness of inequity
remembering the crack of the whip
yet defying slave drivers
standing up strong in my identity
keeping myself in the knowledge
of the warriors from whom I came
here is breathing

beyond the sea
resisting the will to be complicit
to the diminishment of light
of breath in bodies
in a system where class, caste, color
are used to concoct
separate yet equal
low wages for some
mass incarceration
unemployment
poverty
if we stay in sufferation
swallowing the bile
of trauma
fueled by those who taught
the skin I am in
is sin
nothing right
words strangling my life
if we not part of the change
then we part a di degredation
here is breathing

learning from it all
I am royalty
I am a supreme expression of the Divine
I am history that did not begin or end with enslavement
I am the wind in the trees, the voice on the breeze
I am the wisdom of the Ancestors
I am rich with melanin
I am all hues and shades of brown
another legacy of Ancestors transported
I am breathing

Karen Georgia Thompson
Keon Heywood
21 February 2018
Kingston, Jamaica

(All rights reserved.  For permission to reprint, send email to: bytherivers13@gmail.com)

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