Adrian Russouw, Rumi Jeraj and David Hodgson in Rhythm Playground by Rumi Jeraj. Photo: Kendra Epik.

doorway of no return

by charles c. smith.


'it's an unspeakable anger i have…there was just
so much evil.  i don't think i am in a position to forgive. i am
not fine.  i am not fine at all.  i don't know if i'll ever be fine again.'
nicole james of yensomu youth and development project
who traveled to ghana with others to mark the 200
year anniversary of the end of the slave trade

and it was certainly a journey
across time into circumstance

across continents and oceans 
that swallowed villagers

who walked with sunlight on ghana's shores
and crawled into a castle over the parched

sands that ground down bones and blood
over steps that sponged spit and shit

and rooms where pregnant women had their bellies split
and cells where hot irons marked backs and chests

past corridors where bowels fed the earth
past walls where a thousand or more were
crushed into each other like foul meat

where men and women without water
drank the sweat off each others' foreheads

where soldiers came every night
for 'belly warmers' who in nine months bore light skinned servants

down into the dungeon where the rebellious met their death
and into the narrow black walkways where
the ocean roared and only the blind could
see into the seemingly endless waters

where blue-black bodies dragged at dawn
were led with chains on fishing boats
ferrying them to large ships
full of stout and short men 
holding rifles and knives 
shouting orders or cutting the breath
of any who would not or could not move along -

these were what were marked like so many parcels
owned by someone somewhere far away

across an ocean diseased with ships
one medical officer and an insurance company employee

guarantors of the freight
marshals of those who rebelled
beneath the decks built to bring them
into fields of sugar and cotton

snakes and swamps houses
and farmyards cold and heat

who therefore plotted all night and waited
for any moment to discharge themselves
into the white-tipped waves

or seek to make the ship return
to the shores they were led from

so they might find once again
the winds of the earth they knew by birth

and to which they would never return
neither here or in a moment of mercy

until centuries have gone under sails
and their bones pebble the earth

and their children roam
in a half-life of fear
forgetful of ever being told who they were

and how and why they arrived
and those who came before
and had no names

and could not claim what they made
in towns and cities in which they were always set aside

until some young men and women went out on a journey

far beyond what space and time could ever reveal –




by charles c. smith.


and so we read the protests
of his announced death
the words like rusted daggers

each syllable speaking so many centuries
when we relied on hope when weapons were unavailable
we sought deliverance in the heart of snails -

what was discovered was undeniable
we wrapped our wounds in tissue paper
to keep blood from flooding our arms -

nothing seemed given in return
we got what we took the raw wraps of heaven
rainbows floating into an exuberance rarely seen -

what flew over us on this flight on this ocean
salted with bodies the sick suicidal mad
we felt their breaths like aches in our bones -

so many handed down after so many centuries
what it must have been like not being able to swim
in a vast relentless deep and cold ocean

or spattered bone and blood
between leg and wrist irons
long after we let go our bowels
in the bottom of a boat
destined to death or a new world -

and now
another 500 years later
another black man they want to die -

in a time when they say all are equal
we are caught in this moment

like smoke in distant trees





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