New Gods

©2000 Ward Kelley
Are these new gods more powerful
than the old gods of my tribe?

My gods did not protect me from
being captured then sold…

the cages would have killed
most animals, yet men can endure

where animals remove their own spirits,
and endurance is the curse of man.

The waters made me sick for weeks,
vomit was an additional punishment

for all of us defeated ones, but not
as bad as the chains.

Then here in this odd land,
in the midst of our enduring work,

we learn of the new gods,
one slain on a rack of timber,

one his mother, and I suspect
there are others who were the friends

of the one tortured on wood.
I would seek to know more

of this slain god, and I feel a kinship
with one so tortured and misused,

and I think he might help us,
yet my tribesmen tell me I am foolish,

for the gods of the whites will only
ever favor the wishes of the whites.
By 1800, 10 to 15 million blacks had been transported to the Americas; estimates run as high as 50 million inhabitants of Africa who were lost to slavery and death due to the slave trade. In 1610, Father Sandoval, a Catholic priest laboring in the Americas, wrote to his superiors in Europe questioning the legality of the slave trade. Brother Luis Brandaon responded, “I think your Reverence should have no scruples on this point, because this is a matter which has been questioned by the Board of Conscience in Lisbon, and all its members are learned and conscientious men.”

If the Dead Must Speak

©2000 Ward Kelley
We miss our limbs, the splay
of arms, the limbo legs, the
intimate positioning of apertures
for sex; all must touch
to satisfaction, even toes.

We miss the inflections from
our tongues and vocal chords,
and where we can now convey
our words much more succinctly,
there is no way to cluck

or kiss a minor statement
for a proper irony; we miss
the sibilance that comes from
talking faster than one’s own thoughts…
for out here we never run faster

than the speed of thought, it’s physically
impossible, you know, yet we would
hiss and hiss, as if gulls could whisper…
but most of what we miss is you,
for none of us would trade places,

and this, just this, is a fine thing
for you to know…

our waiting for your own death.
[click to view introduction]