The Battle of and for the Black Face Boy

by Nikky Finney, from Oxford American

Black boys needed to turn swamp forest into white gold!

In 1851 he is stopped and frisked,
packed inside the ice of iron,
in the hull of the Jesus, on his back
eighteen hours a day, one hundred
and ninety-two days, he has three
square feet of space and ten vertical
inches of air, the cat-o-nine tails
whips away, the jaws of the speculum
oris feed him horse pea mush,
startlingly, strike with wonder,
he is alive, the devil is beaten out
of his father, sharks nose the water
for his boat, one hundred times as
many black face boys thrown overboard
will eventually make the passage,
the new world’s cardinal child is robust,
disposable, appraised and weighed,
in great supply,

Open wide black face boy, open wide, our brave new world will make great use of you!

I twist to my right looking for my father who is no longer three
rows over. Another boy my height and weight chained wrist to
ankle has split open the back of his head by beating it against the
wooden planks beneath us. His eyes have pitched and quaked and
rolled back now. Once on shore my name is Lawless and I am
barely breathing. They stand me up in a vat of palm oil. My black
face is the first microchip. It will be rubbed and watched for more
than two hundred years. As long as I wear this black face they can
find me anywhere. I have been hauled here by them for them. It is
illegal for me to be outside without them. It is against the law for
me to wear clothes with a pocket. A pocket is for privacy and
mine was stripped and thrown behind me in the salt waves. Now
that we are one big family a pass or a civil war will be required to
zigzag cotton into wool. On slave row I am marched to my strip
of red dirt floor. I am given my three square feet of space and my
ten vertical inches of air. In an almost dead boy’s dream curl I
drink down the free hips of black women patted and swirled in
African coconut dust. Daylight comes. Plantation people walk by
stiffly in long ruffled skirts and top hats that hide the sweet sway
of the body. I grow into a man and learn they call this manners and

The women plundered with him
are opened and entered like fish
mouths, his sisters are swept and
blown into the air like dandelion,
pussy willows, weeping willows,
black-eyed Susan willows, each
will grow furiously, dangerously,
across the mantle of the new land,
peony girls will pop, top heavy
hydrangea women, drenched in
indigo and poppy, fluttering inside
the dark-eyed suckle of sugar
and cane, their motion picture
hips throwing seed,

Black boy rubbed back alive, rubbed up for luck, rubbed on for sale and battle!

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