In Memory of Katherine Foster, Free Negress, Late, of These Parts

 ©by Brenda Marie Osbey

 

 

1.

the grave is silent.

so much for the vanity of the living

we all are here

have been here

just beneath the redder earth

surrounding all this land with all our bones

nimble fingers

humming

and the rest

 

in canada, they say, the negroes all are free

so goes the song

or think we are, i tell myself

or think we are

 

 

the very idea that some negress – one such as yourself is how they say it –

should work for her own keep

without the favor of some white man is what they mean

or pity of his pious wife and daughters

nor only work but

prosper well enough to take on workers

not for their lives’ blood as they do, no

but for right pay

and land to work

and burying-ground besides.

2.

over out near gospel hill

the gentlemen, they say, are nervous again.

and we here in lesser canada have no doubt what they do mean.

 

southeast to southampton no one asks slave or free

hacking negroes right and left comes very nigh a special calling,

what in the wake of that saviour whose name no one dare speak:

puts me in mind, says hester, of that other time

all other times when ones

such as myself still could

hear

some prophet wailing from out the wailing rushes

 

 

exactly what

after all

is

a free negro?

 

3.

my annie went down with the boys

looking i suppose to catch wild

things as children do

some while ago, says hester

land just back from there

all but fire-red with the blood of wild things

 

i sew and sew.

4.

my bones often think of hester's just nearby.

wild things she'd said.

she was the first to go.

rheumatism lit a fever in her that never did die out

two of the men found her when they come out from the smokehouse

and carried her here to my bed where i

could see to her proper

she'd tended to my mother when her time came and i was born

tended me when mother went

and again when my three came.

first true thing i ever did buy was hester's ease and comfort.

how dear it is, she she said that morning, to be my own woman now and free

and so she stayed

her small house but a few good strides from here

fire burning every day she lived:

keep off that devil cold from these poor bones,

 

then she was gone.

 

and we are none of us freer living than any one dead colored woman.

that much i know i learnt from hester.

 

how long ago was that?

5.

they have dug all around now beneath the main house

unearthing pots, buttons, fireplaces, timbers

old women's keepsakes, children's treasures

shards of lives

unearthing and replanting hester, me and all the rest

such care they take

every little thing

such tenderness now that we are gone –

or so they tell themselves –

i feel these bones lean out to hester's from the cold red clay

blood-earth

blind-stitching

prophets' wailing

bones of wild things

 

 

not so very far they are planting native gardens

terraces

fountains rising from our old half-buried stream

that sometimes flooded over

sometimes not

cutting through the blood red earth

cutting through this one small plot

briefest sanctuary

home and work

laughter and sweet communion

smallest respite against so many martyrs on the way

burying-ground

and sweetest freedom

 

hear tell there will be feasting and much singing comes the spring

prayers tossed up around near gospel hill

and all those other blood red holy hills

 

and now that we are neighbors to that great institution

who ever will tell what only we could tell?

who knows the cost of what we bought and paid for?

who dares to tell the cost of mr jefferson's

own sweet dream and higher calling

for this upper country:

 

a plan so broad so liberal and so modern

so much to raise the envy

of even these learnèd few who serve its noble and enviable aim:

illimitable freedom

of the human mind

 

just so

just here

straight-stitched

remnants

of our own once thriving enterprise

bones of free women

this bit of land

wild things.

 

©2011, 2018,  by Brenda Marie Osbey

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