My ole mammy was true to form African

she was from way over them waters

she was Asetewa the first

and me            you can just call me the second coming         everybody else do

so I guess        you shouldn’t be no different

on matthews plantation, I was christened Eliza Mae

but in the company of my mammy

I was spoken to and of as Asetewa the second

white man lay claim to my body this ole human flesh

but a child’s name       the right to be given any justifiable interpretation

should be rightfully decreed by their mama

the same woman who strain and struggle       battling against rivers of death and blood

to push into this world of pitchfork deeds a baby that she don’t own once it taste air

to hell with them white folks names

them conjuring of mind shackles

if they figure you look like an Eliza then they pass that name on to you

course the master would only allow nigger names as he call them nothing African nothing from that heathen land

excepting us    excepting our flesh

I was promised a long time ago

before my hair started turning as white as them bales of cotton

I was promised to Lyman Kinder Henry

it was bout as honored a promise as me telling you

I didn’t miss him         cause I do

and for a long time after

I just sat in the doorway of his old shack and closed my eyes

with my eyes closed, I ventured off following his music through

ole master charlie’s fields       where Lyman would reach his hand out to me and say

come on now woman

us got to move fore them hounds pick our skin

and I see myself grabbing hold of Lyman’s hand gripping it so tightly he’d breath

in all the air surrounding us and just as we find each other hand in hand

that great big sankofa bird would swoop down

and Lyman and Asetewa would jump up on them wings

and not even the sun would challenge us

we’d be back in Africa by the time Lyman

would say we’s fixing to be man and wife

and my mammy and yours and all our kin

they’s waiting at the shore

waiting Asetewa like I been waiting

to make you my woman on free soil

yes I’se sit and dream but back then I wouldn’t dare walk off matthews

I’se a woman with a mama and two ailing aunts

I understand Lyman    never allowing himself to get attached to me

one time my mama grab his hand and run it over my cheeks and chin

and throat and neck and she tell him

that his grandmamma and her were from the same tribe

so if he chose me        Asetewa to wed

he’d be getting pure Malinke woman

time-honored blood

Lyman just smiled a plenty

and I smile

and he say Asetewa second coming

you sure is got a beautiful throat-line

I say back        course not knowing how to thank somebody

for complimenting my throat

why Lyman     you sure is got hands fit for more than fiddling

I shoulda been born a fiddle lawd knows I got the right color skin

just ain’t made of wood

Lyman laugh some     then he whisper in my ear

I can’t have white men take away something

I ain’t near ready to part with

I can give up my fiddle tomorrow       she born of tree meat

All she got to offer are tears of sap

she’d understand

but you gon cost me my flesh and bones                  my soul woman

Asetewa  I’ma need my soul one day

but if I’se ever in the condition to love

I’d carry you away on the back of sankofa     you hear this blind man talking to ya

I’d love you worse than ole Charlie love them fields

but I ain’t meant to love

not even you woman   as pretty as your throat may feel

then he stumbled on way from us

and I was so mad with ole Charlie

that I wound up giving two of his hounds

the evil eye      them dogs didn’t eat for a week

but even that   didn’t settle my heart              for a man I knew loved me

all them years we had been sitting and barely talking but me listening to his fiddle

on route to bringing food to the fields           I’d tell him who I was

and how I sometimes sit up in the night and my mama and aunts

would tell me to sleep and stop rattling the cover      but I’d listen to that fiddle

I’d listen as she sang her heart out

I’d close my eyes and say to my mama

that damned fiddle is the luckiest gal I know

I’d offer Lyman that story over and over

cause it worked to get him smiling and asking my name again

I’d go up to his ear and slowly whisper Asetewa tween you and me

but to the rest, Eliza Mae and I’d scurry way way from him

like I had swallowed a mouth full of cayenne

not long after Lyman had got up the nerve and ran away from matthews

not long after               Solomon, the driver     spent most days

primping himself in Lyman’s boots

about that same time I was brought before master Charlie

to address as the master put it             Solomon’s right to a wife

cause of all Solomon’s dedication to keeping us niggers inline

and even though he wasn’t no spring chicken

which he wasn’t at 54 years and since I had a history of losing every baby the master two best bucks tried to plant in me

I was the best sort of nigger gal that master could get up off of

so he say here yo husband Eliza Mae take Solomon to your bosom

then ole Charlie go to laughing and rocking back and forth in his chair and every once in a while

he’d bat a mosquito with his hands

and then he’d stare at Solomon

Solomon was looking at me like a hungry hound on the scent of a runaway nigger

and master began to laugh with Solomon and master lit a cigar and after about five puffs

we were made to hug in the face of god and ole master Charlie

Solomon took it upon himself to carry me out cradled like a baby

and ole Charlie screamed go on Solomon

take your pickaninny gal home

and when we was a great distance

I jumped out of Solomon’s arms and screamed

you can crawl your hound dog body upon my flesh

and take to wandering round my woman parts

but you’ll never have all of me           you’ll never own my heart      and that’s the part

that makes the difference        you fixing to take to bed a dead woman Solomon

a body that don’t never intend to give you one days worth of happiness

many men ole Charlie done sent to my bed when I was young         I’m 49 now

so what you getting Solomon ain’t no sweet reward

ole Charlie giving ya scraps   just like all niggers get            so come on and eat yo slop nigger

you want to take me    you want these fields to be your troth            eat like a pig Solomon

cause that’s all you are

then I took off running slapping my heels back home to mama

who had fainted in the fields a short time ago

and died on top of  seven bales of cotton

housed together to cushion what was left of her body

she was 88 Louisiana years old

Solomon would get the last laugh

for my act of defiance in the field

ole Charlie sold my aunts to his Charlie’s brother’s plantation

I was told it wasn’t far and if  I had become

a half-decent wife to Solomon I might earn weekend visits

but I had been a slave too long to believe

people you walked out to the wagon would ever return

so us stand there Malinke sweat and flesh

not crying cause you spend your whole life crying

when they boil my daddy in oil cause the master’s uncle’s wife

took to hiring him out for love

I cried              and when they beat my brother to death

for striking the white man who lit the pot      I cried

my mammy’s body all wet from sweat

her feet all blistered and raw bits of bone poking out

blinking at ya as she lie there dead to the world

I screamed for sankofa but I had forgotten how to push out the water

so when my aunts prepared themselves  I made it my business to kiss every lingering jaw,

eye, neck, arm, hand, bosom, of my mama’s tribe

the back of their heads would be the last patch sewn into the quilt of my flesh I’d know

my anguish      leaving dust tracks in place of tears

I never intended to get nowhere

but Solomon as a husband was more than I’se willing to take

so I run            you shoulda saw me in plain daylight running something awful      here and there

I wasn’t use to my feet having that much control over themselves

at first, nobody paid any mind             Solomon thought I was losing my mind bout my mama

and that might make me easy to bed so Solomon let me run

as far as the sound of my feet would hammer against earth               a false freedom was gathered tween trees huddled together                 their branches hugging wide hips

somewhere in the middle        where stalks of flesh were satisfied to sway   their wind songs

African rhythms          I could hear em           sankofa I tell myself

is flapping his magical wings awakening the trees from their forest dreams

their stillness violated by my run

Solomon watches me

Lose myself in the thicket     arms and fingers become machetes

Laying waste to the stalks blocking my view of sankofa

Solomon full of disgust and a man’s need to release his seed

screams to the hounds tear that pickaninny

 who don’t want nothing to do with me

don’t want  my body next to hers

don’t want take me in when I knock at her door under the moon

eat her hound dogs eat her

and before I could jump up onto the wrist

of one of them outstretched branches

the two hounds sink their jaws into

my legs and drag me to the foot of that green-headed woman

out of sight of sankofa

and I close my eyes as they work their way

round to my breast      the fattest part of me   the part where it seems all my food must hide

there on top of the broken branches

and tears of shredded bark and mud and dead hair leaves

my breast hang there undetached from the rest of me

going out on their own            struggling to make their own leap at free soil

but the dogs have noticed the satchels of meat and make supper at them

till nothing remains but two matching holes of spitting blood

I scream for sankofa and watch the dogs teeth grind then swallow the fat

pawning the black skin churning it round on their tongues

one of them hounds spits up a nipple with a violent force

he sound like it damned near choked him

by this time Solomon done made his way to what I hopes would be my death bed

he slaps one of them hounds across his forehead laughing    stuffing my nipple back

into the mouth of the dog       who give it up            then he say

well Eliza Mae            seem like your pride now rest in the belly of these hounds

you ain’t even a woman no mo

just a ugly pickaninny             no breast no nothing worth

eyeing beneath that dress

make you wanna just close your eyes and die

bet now you’ll take me as yo husband

cause right now I’m the onliest thing would want you

the only fool nigger take the bone and claim it for gold

then after he figured he had belittled me enough

he got two slaves to tote me back to his cabin

then he sent for the herb women to bandage me

and time they had done sealed me up and left

I took it upon myself to conjure sankofa

I somehow made it to that porch where I could sit

and think about Solomon returning

returning to climb up on top of me

feeding his seeds to my womb

day after day

and I thought of killing him with oleander cornbread

but if found out           that would leave me beaten                seasoned with cayenne and salt

till I cooked to death under the sun

I sat there on that porch          and it came to me        that I should do what my mama use to tell us her peoples some of them did        ones who knew nothing but fear and blood and death

Sprouted from the soil beyond our waters

so I did just like her stories told          and cut a slab of my tongue

set it free from my mouth                   then  swallowed

what you hearing from this point on is a dead woman

who in life had her back split so many times

for so many years she forget how to sit still

I have died already

at the foot of that tree                SANKOFA took my spirit

we fly past Solomon   doing what he do best

showing off for ole Charlie   beating niggers till they bones rattle

but ole Solomon wait till he visit that dead body lying across his front porch

he gon curse his Lawd           cause he done lost his final chance to be a man 

a man who could tame           more than a pack of dogs

but in the end           he wasn’t nothing but a nigger driver

Solomon couldn’t tame the thing men want most

couldn’t tame             a wild-hearted woman

couldn’t tame             her vacant womb