Slave Trade Bracelet
. . . . . . . .Newport, Rhode Island
Those mansions we drove past, turning into shimmer in December sunlight,
those family cemeteries, snow still roosting on the tombstones—
Antique shops so small something was bound to shatter
if a boy, curious to touch the keepsakes, snatched a book out
from the bottom of a stack. In one of them
we noticed an old bracelet, which, although polished,
still seemed to hold shadows, especially in one dark spot
the seller must have missed, crafted with whatever
was available for metal in the nineteenth century,
bronze, or brass, perhaps. I’m not quite sure.
It reminded me of a shackle. And some slave trader
whose faith in the darkness of the world was stubborn
as a figurehead bracing against white-cap spray,
as it slices to some port with a purpose no one mentions anymore.
“Here now,” he might as well have said when trading, “take this,”
as if in response to the wind, which was merciless—
“Here now,” he seemed to say to me, as well,
“Here’s this piece of metal, where’s the slave?”
It made me wince to stare at it,
something familiar that made my throat shut.
It made me wince to see it sold there, too,
to say our trip itself, the mansions, each buff of the brush
to polish the metal under the poor light of some lamp
on a workbench, were simply treasures. I didn’t have the heart to tell you.
Because the slave traded for this bracelet surely must be dead, by now,
and unknown, I think he had a scar, or birthmark, on his forehead—
I think he hated politics and fighting.
And if he outlived two bright sons, I think he still sang,
or hummed, out of hope or habit, songs in the field.
If singing is a salve, a bandage for despair, I think he could sing all day.
When I think of him, I think of that one small, unpolished spot,
and traders, stubborn, believing in the darkness of the world.
How next winter, driving past this place,
which I’ve seen so many times, and often, in the worst weather,
when antiquated streetlamps make the snow seem whiter,
I’ll shudder, and despite the family cemeteries, stately with their history,
and despite the mansions abandoned to moonlight,
their glimmer scintillating solitary splendor, I won’t be convinced.
by Domenic Scopa
Editor’s Note: The first person narrative stream of thought in this poem carries the reader from the beginning to an end that can’t help but linger with you. Some stains never rub off.
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