Jacob Lawrence Ekphrasis: Frederick Douglass Series
Panel 4. A Slave Boy’s Lullaby

Mammy say sleep, and then she go away
She say sleep, in my dreams she’ll stay

O stars guide her through the black-black
O good Lawd, help her so massa don’t lash her back

Fire on my feet, gon keep the cold out
Gon keep cold out until massa start to shout

Colored folks, share all we gots to give
Give massa our blood, jes so we live

Mammy say sleep, so she can run away
She cant let her boy keep her in delay

O stars guide her fast, all through the night
O good Lawd, gets her home without any strife

Massa keeps his eyes on her when she sneak
Eyes always on her bres, he cant even blink

Mammy turn her check, massa thrust, whine and wail
Mammy make massa sleep so she can see her chile

Mammy say sleep, and she’ll be out and away
Gotta return soon, massa up in the day

O stars cover my face when she leave this slave cabin
O good Lawd, get her home quick so nothin’ll happen

Jesus say he comin, he comin in a hurry
Comin to take my troubles, but so many to carry

O lawd, kill massa quick so mammy can live in peace
O lawd, kill massa quick so mammy can live with me

 

 

Panel 6. Up Jump the Funk Never Felt this Bad

Captain Auld will try to shake,
try to rattle and roll, he’ll try

to sweep and shake
his cruelties into a crack,

oversee and shimmy-sham
with the best of them.

Captain Auld will try to
breakdance, even in 1825.

Bust a backspin on his
slave, shined floor.

Clean it again, and again,
dip dip da, dip dip da
til I say it’s right!

In one shoulder-pop
and teeter, he will try

to cabbage patch, put a lash
across your ass, make you

quarrel on his behalf,
who’s massa better?

Captain Auld will try to tip toe
off, then moon walk, or cowboy

in his green hat. He will jerk,
hustle, and do some Kung Fu

fighting, fast as lightning.
His hand raised, big boss style, will chop

the life right out of you if you disobey,
if you try to think on your own.

Boy, I will claim the hell
out your future. I be damned
if you learn how to read.

So when you hide, behind his wife,
you already have bushels

of books and stacks
of pamphlets to read. Hidden

from Captain Auld’s
wicked boogaloo.

You already you know
not to look his way.

No telling what you
might see. No telling what

itch your folks will catch later
down the line.

 

 

doug brownF. Douglas Brown of Los Angeles is the author of Zero to Three (University of Georgia Press 2014), recipient of the 2013 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and selected by Tracy K. Smith. Mr. Brown, an educator for twenty years, teaches English at Loyola High School, an all-boys Jesuit school. He holds a MA in Literature and Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, and is both a Cave Canem and Kundiman fellow, two organizations that cultivate the poetry of African-Americans and Asians respectively. His poems have appeared in The Virginia Quarterly (VQR), Toegood Poetry, The Sugar House Review, Cura Magazine, Muzzle Magazine, Transfer Magazine and Santa Clara Review. Mr. Brown was featured in Poets and Writers Magazine as one of their Debut Poets of 2014 (Jan/Feb 2015).

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