A Rage on Berbice, 1763

By LYNNE THOMPSON

 

Before I was north and south of a new country
   I was divided from    I was a tactic      I was
   a slave-trading port
Before I was remade as Amerindian
   I was sugar as the main crop
Before I was overworked and underfed
   I was selected for immediate punishment
   “persuaded” to remain a wooden gutter for collecting rainwater
   ruled by terror and customary understandings before I was
   replenished by the arrival of two more ships
Before I was left for dead by frightened Europeans was
   before I was something black in the bottom of a buyer’s cup
Before I was high upriver in the jungle
   I was gold and silver and a bounty paid to soldiers
   prepared fields farther inland    the quarters where we captives slept
I was the fort burned and abandoned before
   I joined the Arawaks and squatted with a knife in my hand
Before I was Traumatized Woman hoping to make my way
  I was the turning of the tide
Before I was awakened in the middle of the night
   I was bloodshed on the captains’ bedclothes
Before I escaped the cooking pot full of Negro flesh
   before I declined to implicate the others
Before I was a witness to the executions of the women rebels
   and sentenced to vigilante injustice

I was a daughter    who spelled you my name     phonetically      I was
woman with child    whose children’s children    have lived    to tell you this

 

 

Lynne Thompson is the 2021–22 poet laureate for the City of Los Angeles. She’s the author of Start with a Small Guitar and Beg No Pardon, winner of the Perugia Press Prize and the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award, as well as Fretwork, winner of the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize. Thompson’s work has appeared in Pleiades, Black Warrior Review, Ploughshares, Poem-A-Day (Academy of American Poets) and The Best American Poetry 2020, among other publications. She serves on the boards of Cave Canem and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

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A Rage on Berbice, 1763

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