Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Song for the Field Slaves

Cotton Song

Come, brother, come. Lets lift it;
come now, hewit! roll away!
Shackles fall upon the Judgment Day
But lets not wait for it.

God’s body’s got a soul,
Bodies like to roll the soul,
Cant blame God if we dont roll,
Come, brother, roll, roll!

Cotton bales are the fleecy way,
Weary sinner’s bare feet trod,
Softly, softly to the throne of God,
“We aint agwine t wait until th Judgment Day!

Nassur; nassur,
Hump.
Eoho, eoho, roll away!
We aint agwine to wait until th Judgment Day!”

God’s body’s got a soul,
Bodies like to roll the soul,
Cant blame God if we dont roll,
Come, brother, roll, roll!

—Jean Toomer, from Cane (1923)

 

During American slavery, the economy of the Southern states depended heavily on the production of cotton, and subsequently on the black slaves who harvested it in the fields. Field work was the hardest of slave labor. Slaves worked from dawn to dusk clearing land and planting, tending and picking the cotton. They were supervised by slave drivers and overseers who were notoriously cruel, frequently whipping the slaves if they didn’t work hard enough. Slaves were expected to pick a certain amount of cotton, which would be weighed at the end of the day. If the weight was under the requirement, they were punished; they were either denied a meal, beaten, or worse.

Laborers in the fields picking cotton - Jefferson County, Florida. 189-. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.
Laborers in the fields picking cotton – Jefferson County, Florida. 189-. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

Jean Toomer’s “Cotton Song,” similar to the Negro spirituals, can be described as a work chant sung by field slaves as they labor in the back-breaking work of picking cotton. Though not content with the inhumane work forced upon them, they continue on in their suffering, knowing that the freedom they long for will come on Judgment Day.

Songs like this were usually misinterpreted by slave owners, who believed their slaves were happy in their work—why else would they sing? However, these were songs sung by people suffering for God, not earthly masters. How ironic is it that slave owners used Christianity to justify slavery, and the slaves, in turn, used the same principles to anticipate their freedom.

A specific Bible verse comes to mind when reading this poem:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is not favoritism. (Colossians 3:23-25)

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a work song for the field slaves. Show how they can still be optimistic after being beaten down by the burning sun and slash across the back with the overseer’s whip, harvesting a crop that would line the white man’s pockets.

—Nortina

What Love Is

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in them.
-1 John 4:16 NIV

How can you settle for
This rotten fruit—
black, mushy,
growing grey fuzz
on its skin
that dries your tongue,
chokes you as you attempt to swallow?
This accursed thing
that destroys your innocence,
opens your eyes to impurity,
driving you from paradise—
and call it Love?

How can you give yourself,
mind, body, and soul,
to the whims of the flesh
manifested in a man,
smelling of Jack Daniel’s and Coke,
who shatters hearts for a living,
and then hate Love?

How can you desecrate
the sacrament of marriage,
disrupt the natural order
of the home,
shacking up with a
jobless drifter,
who doesn’t call himself husband,
who sleeps with you for
food and shelter, and
calls your premarital sex,
making Love?

Your heart is corrupted.
Love is all around you,
but you will never find it
living carnally.
Step away from the world.
Find a secret place, any place.

A closet.
Open your heart to
the omnipresent Lover
that comforts you
in the cotton caress
of a coat sleeve
against your cheek.

A garden.
Feel Him in the breeze,
ruffling through the leaves,
sweeping the sweet aroma
of blooming flowers
toward your nose.

A church pew.
Listen for Him
in the soothing silence
surrounding you
as you read words of
Unconditional Love
from an Old Book
written by Saints
who knew Love, saw Love,
was touched, healed by Love.
Saints who have been waiting to
share with you the true Word about
what Love is.

—Nortina

Black History Month: Bible Defense of Slavery

Here’s a poem written by the “inaugural protest poet,” Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, who used rhetoric, allusions, allegories, metaphors, and irony,  in her poetry to examine racial and gender divisions in America.

 

Bible Defense of Slavery

Take sackcloth of the darkest dye,
And shroud the pulpits round!
Servants of Him that cannot lie,
Sit mourning on the ground.

Let holy horror blanch each cheek,
Pale every brow with fears;
And rocks and stones, if ye could speak,
Ye well might melt to tears!

Let sorrow breathe in every tone,
In every strain ye raise;
Insult not God’s majestic throne
With th’ mockery of praise.

A ‘reverend’ man, whose light should be
The guide of age and youth,
Brings to the shrine of Slavery
The sacrifice of truth!

For the direst wrong by man imposed,
Since Sodom’s fearful cry,
The word of life has been unclos’d,
To give your God the lie.

Oh! When ye pray for heathen lands,
And plead for their dark shores,
Remember Slavery’s cruel hands
Make heathens at your doors!