Thursday Poem

Unidentified Female Student, Former Slave

—Talladega College, circa 1885

You might have heard a story like this one well
but I’m telling this one to you now.
I was five when the soldiers came.

Master worked me twenty years longer.
How could I know? One day he left me alone
and an unwatched pot started to boil. By the time

he came back home I was cleaned of him and singing,
There’s a man going round taking names.
Ready, set, and I was gone, walking. Could I see

beyond his yard? Did I have a thought to read or write
or count past God’s creation? A barefooted
girl!-and you remember, you woman who will take

your pen to write my life. This is what the truth was like:
Master’s clouds followed me to the steps of this school.
Dear reader, when you think on this years after I have died

and I am dust, think on a great and awful morning
when I learned my freedom. Think that the skin on my
back was scared when I dared step out into the world,

when my Master stood trembling and weeping
on his front porch and he cursed me beyond knowing.

by Honorée Fannone Jeffers
from Outlandish Blues
Wesleyan University Press, 2003