#BlaPoWriMo – Old School Church Songs

I won’t lie, I was singing “I Know It Was the Blood” while reading this poem. We don’t sing enough spirituals and hymns in church today. Like Tamela Mann said, that “back in the day praise.” The fact that slaves could still praise and hope on the Lord despite their toils and trials should be an inspiration for us all. Especially those of us who so quickly lose faith when things get tough.

#ThisIsMyPoetryBlog

“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.”―Buddha

the old ladies
in the big hats
singing the songs of Zion –

not in the choir,
but from the corner
facing the pulpit –
the Amen Corner –
the pre-11:00am-service devotion –

“I know it was the blood
Yes, I know it was the blood
I know it was the blood for me –
One day when I was lost
Jesus died upon the cross
And I know it was the blood for me.”

I don’t know if they still
sing these old songs in black churches –
I lost that cultural connection –
like so many artifacts overlooked,
broken, moving from place to place.

But I remember them, fondly –
a part of my youth and upbringing.
A rolling stone gathers no moss.
It is true.

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#BlaPoWriMo: No, No, No (poem)

No, no, no.
Ain’t breakin’ my back today, Lawd.
No, no, no
Dey whip my boy in de head, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Him run to de woods halfway, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Found him pa in a shallow grave, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Mista gotta rep fir breakin’ slaves, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Drag my boy behind de hay, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Can’t hear no screams, I say, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Let him pain be brief, I pray, Lawd.
No, no, no.
I’ll keep pickin’ til I’m dead, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Keep pickin’ til we dead.

—Nortina


Written for BlaPoWriMo prompt: write a work song for the field slaves.

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