for phillis wheatley
topsy black as cane…that slaving ship which brought u to these shores
gave up its name that u might make it yrs --
idyllic country lass whom god adores!
for never did u know the kind of toil
yr kith & kin endured; the lash, the moil.
u furrowed rows in fields of verse, not soil.
heroic like yr couplets, so u snared
the favor of yr mistress who declared
yr prodigy & u were blithely spared,
unlike yr fellow slaves, the menial.
was it her tender heart? were u so genial?
what made her mortal sin seem venial?
what made her let a topsy, black as cain,
inspire a darkly moorish gift; retain
that heady, musty breath & entertain
with couplets closed or oft enjambed;
or four-line stanzas deftly crammed
with metered feet & smartly epigrammed?
A lofty soul that cleaved & split in twain,
& filled two bodies may perhaps explain
the spirit bond between u on this plane.
for spirit surely brought u to this land,
& taught yr simple heart to understand
the ways of god inscrutable to man.
& afric’s muse did not forgetful prove
but birthed yr book of poetry to move
aside, displace the chattel’s pain with love.
© Joseph McNair;2009