Saturday, August 6, 2022

The African Burial Ground by Yusef Komunyakaa

The African Burial Ground

They came as Congo, Guinea, & Angola,
    feet tuned to rhythms of a thumb piano.
        They came to work fields of barley & flax,
livestock, stone & slab, brick & mortar,
    to make wooden barrels, some going
        from slave to servant & half-freeman.
They built tongue & groove—wedged
    into their place in New Amsterdam.
        Decades of seasons changed the city
from Dutch to York, & dream-footed
    hard work rattled their bones.
        They danced Ashanti. They lived
& died. Shrouded in cloth, in cedar
    & pine coffins, Trinity Church
        owned them in six & a half acres
of sloping soil. Before speculators
    arrived grass & weeds overtook
        what was most easily forgotten,
& tannery shops drained there.
Did descendants & newcomers
    shoulder rock & heave loose gravel
into the landfill before building crews
    came, their guitars & harmonicas
        chasing away ghosts at lunch break?
Soon, footsteps of lower Manhattan
    strutted overhead, back & forth
        between old denials & new arrivals,
going from major to minor pieties,
    always on the go. The click of heels
        the tap of a drum awaking the dead.  

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