The Kindness of Cotton and the Cruelties of Coin
(Ode To Lincoln)
It was a thick night, a heavy night, beneath Alabama sky,
Up there in that great house I could hear that baby cry.
His cry was not of suffering, simply calling for his due.
For though his skin was moments old, his station was not new.
His calls were never long nor loud before the deed was done,
And the baby from that Alabama night became a man beneath its sun.
His cries no longer sounded, his laughter all but stopped,
The playful child with eyes for toys now set those eyes to crop.
The young master, a new kind of cruel, was unkind and hard to please,
Between burning sun and stinging thorns, his whip would know no ease.
Eyes held low, and heads bent lower, master cometh with his whip.
And you best not let him bleed you, when mouths could find not spit.
A changing time, with shifting winds, that blew down from the north
For what was all but set in stone, its fate would now be fought.
A time when great houses could fall, and the cotton set ablaze,
Where futures could be different, and the past then put to raze.
It was a thick night, a heavy night, beneath Alabama sky.
My birth could not be sounded, I was hushed when I should cry.
No hundred hands addressed my needs, only two not soon forgotten,
Made rough by thorns for masters coin, but as soft as freshest cotton.
There was no laughter, no play, no escape from fate’s delight
My childhood spent in burning sun, being nursed by fear at night.
Nimble hands versus spiteful thorns, the masters will be done
For what the master’s whip had spared, the thorns would see undone.
Then the war began.
These truths we hold self-evident, I did not understand.
How these words could stay my master’s whip and bring solace to these lands.
The masters were all in uproar, with their faces all turned red
Like some thief had robbed them all of coin, or the cotton had fallen dead
But there were different men far from here, whose kindling had just caught,
That all men were created equal, who could have bred such foolish thought.
That I, born into my station, of servitude and want
Could set my sights beyond this field, what thoughts freedom could taunt.
These north-men must be madmen, in their fashioning of such dreams.
That I, my master’s property, could wander where I please.
There would be fighting, that much was certain, the clash of old and new.
It was a sweeping call, now come to arms, the many versus the few.
Where my masters clung to olden ways being wrested from their grasp.
The north-men challenged ageless dogma and bore historic task.
They seek to bring us something that we’ve never known or dreamt.
Their march upon these cotton states, meant this age was almost spent.
They came with their battalions, blue and white and red,
With freedom in their forethought and justice at the head.
I heard the boom, the din of war, a country torn in two.
Where brave men met strong ones, where the tests were surely true.
The cotton master, with malcontent, met Renaissance man with duty.
Ere an age died with reluctance, and its heir advanced resolutely.
Here beneath Alabama sky, where I was born and bred and burned.
Here the fight was fiercest, on these fields the tide had turned.
No parlay would be granted, no pardon nor quarter nor truce.
Those that would resist this wave, would be entreated to the noose.
Now their children would be orphans, and their wives now made to weep.
No more sorrow shall we stifle, no more cotton shall we keep.
We will go where toes will point us, and follow paths unknown.
We will leave the masters cotton idle, in our quest to find a home.
The plantation is finally quiet and the great house filled with dread.
The cotton now stood like roses, blood had turned them all to red.
With the north-men moving swiftly, their ranks smote upon the south.
And my master with his cotton courage took his pistol to his mouth.
And thus my yoke was broken.