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Oct 2017
Oh those bodies
on the museum walls
Tennessee Valley bodies and Los Alamos bodies
shining blackly like the stripe of a credit card.

The price of bread fixed at five cents
and we all eat it in slices.
Your name is your labour and
your labour your name.

I have disappeared into a country that doesn’t know me
and I am tearing it up with my teeth.

Oh those bodies
that were once slaves.
Were they pictured any other way
but in idyll or whipped dry?
The dusty Union regiments at Baton Rouge
have made a postcard of one scourged back;
they share it around and die for it.

I have a few postcards, too.
It is strange to see any man kneeling.

Oh those bodies
Cornbread bodies and bodies like a corn snake
crushed among the broad leaves of tobacco;
The ones in bone corsets and the ones
in reed baskets, floating downstream.
The ones in rosy marble and wrought bronze
the ones whose striped backs are coming out in wings
feathers pink and wet
like a new-hatched chick or a stillbirth.

Your body
is a tight machine of grief
packed into homespun like a fist
and relaxes in sepia as it never did in life,
a babe slung underarm and the food
only from cans; they keep the dust out.
Oh those bodies that tend the home, larder and ledger,
and reach for the high cabinets
and keep reaching.

The old voices are back at work.
I am not the one they are speaking to
but I hear them all the same.
They spread out a catalogue of wares
on a sisal blanket in the dark
and every price sounds fair, every garment lovely
unless you made it.

The country workman in bronze now and forever
with his rolled shirtsleeves; his body
raises a hammer and his bicep, mid-shiver
is always striking something, always building
Heaven, and Manhattan, from the foundations.
Stained glass his union flag
and Union Army blood he forgot or never knew.
The thin white arms of Andersonville,
meeting two generations hence, in his arms,
the dark scarred shoulders of the South.

Who brought forth upon the continent this new nation,
and who brought forth the ironclad Monitor
and who put into song the Maple Leaf Rag or Swanee River
and who put that soil there from which the cotton still grows
and who made your dress?
Who owes the debt and who records it?

You and I.

Oh those bodies swathed in light.
Oh those bodies becoming angels.
Bodies bound blackly
and bodies forgetting
which is what bodies do with injury:
they absorb, and they forget.
Just ask me.
Wade Redfearn
Written by
Wade Redfearn
  259
     Mote, TM and Keith Wilson
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