Tag Archives: history

Two Sonnets: Washington Island’s Black Community

by Thomas Davis

Like Moses in the Wilderness

Like Moses fleeing from the Pharaoh’s wrath
Before the miracle of waters parting,
The Preacher blazed a trail on freedom’s path
As fear possessed their endless fleeing.
 
What was that man or woman really seeing
That passed them while they tried to run and hide?
What accident of fate would send them running
When slavers found them tired and terrified?
 
The Preacher prayed away grim miles and tried
To make their spirits testify that dreams
Are greater than the fear that crucified
Their faith that they could get across the streams
 
And past the towns that blocked their way and threatened
To let the slavers pounce and leave them bludgeoned.
 
The Bridge that was a Wall

The bridge, inside the night, was like a wall,
Small, wooden, unassuming, houses dark
Beside a path that seemed to be a call
To all who needed passage to embark
Upon a journey to the river’s other side.
They hid in brush, mouths dry, dread strong enough
To make them sick, and, silently, wide-eyed,
Saw spectres armed with whips and iron cuffs
Stand shining where they’d have to cross the bridge
Without disturbing dogs or waking up
The people in the houses as the ridge
Beyond the river beckoned past the interrupt
That stood between their anxious dreams and where
Their breaths would feel God’s freedom in the air.

Note:
These two sonnets continue the long series that tells the fictional story of the people of a black community that actually lived on Washington Island in the 1850s before unexpectedly disappearing. Two sonnets from this series were posted earlier.

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The People

by Ethel Mortenson Davis to the Navajo

I’ll bring a peach sapling
for you–
for the peach trees
that were cut
and burned.

And I’ll bring seed corn
for you–
for the corn that was pulled
out before it gave birth.

I’ll bring two lambs
for you–
for all the sheep
they killed and laid
at your feet
there on the ground
with your tears.

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Train Ride

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

She feeds him sweets;
he, her, in the seat
ahead of us.

Yesterday, we were young,
but today,
as we climbed
in the Adirondacks,
we felt our age–
hand over hand,
root over root,
tripping over history
and boulders.

I waited for you,
you, for me,
our legs straining
like stressed trees,
trees that send out
a chemical substance
like aspirin
to buffer
their dying–

a train we too
will have to catch.

All four of us stopped
to photograph
droplets of water
on the red maple leaves
suspended like placid lakes
in the rain-soaked day.

But now,
the conductor calls out,
“Express train to
Manhattan,
Grand Central Station–
The Big Apple.”

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Filed under Ethel Mortenson Davis, Poetry