SENTINEL POETRY #28
Online Magazine Monthly -- March 2005
Editor:
Amatoritsero Ede

OYOLU NGOZI HELEN

FOR  SHE WHO THOUGHT  ME  THE WORD "SHEROS"

I have always known that I was black
I have heard the horror stories that are my history
I have met my ancestors in thick volume accounts of pain
And slavery, and humiliation.
I have seen the shackles that held them bound in the castles of Elmina,
Like a tourist,
I too have walked the dungeons of the port of Harcourt,
And I too like a tourist, cried.

I have always known that I was black
I have never wanted to bleach my skin but,
I always played as a little girl with a skirt upon my head-
For hair.
And have always thought" Amina" inferior to "Amy"
And "William" a finer name than "Wale" but,
I have never wanted to be white.

I have always known that I was black
I have worn my kente and aso-oke proudly to weddings and funerals,
And then, my everyday jeans and dresses on every other day.
I can speak my Twi, my Yoruba, my Swahili,
And I can speak the English that is not my own,
And yet, I catch myself,
Holding my breath and sharpening my intonation-
To not only speak a language foreign to me, but,
To sound also like the foreigner.

I have always known that I was black
I know of the battles of Dr King, and I have seen on screen,
And experience via the magic of printed eloquence the shame
Of the Amistad, and the rage of Kinte.
Endless visions of cotton fields and servants clothes and entrances
Have found home in my head.

My father's father's father's father's believed they were demigods, warriors,
-and the stories go that they were,
they walked as kings and lived as gods,
and they believed in what they were.

My father's father's father's assumed they were auctioneers,
And they were,
"Ten of us for one magic reflector!"
"Six of me for two talking spears that shoot out fire and give the power to kill!"
and they assumed that they too would not be auctioned,
and they assumed wrong,
and they were slaves.
And when they returned,
They gave their shame to their sons-
They carry the load that had become too heavy for their age-bent backs,
To cry the tears too plentiful, too painful for their old eyes,
They gave their shame to their sons.

My father's father's thought themselves scholars,
"To be schooled, is to have power"-
And they were schooled, and they searched for power,
They searched for the power to clean away the shame,
And heal angry realization that one is slave-
Not only in body, but in spirit and mind too.
And that it is easy to be given freedom of body
But, freedom of mind and spirit,
And soul and heart,-one must take.
Only , slaves were not taught to take,
They were taught only to be grateful for what was given

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