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Lynn Mari - Earthbound Spirits


The first impression upon her eyes were of the brittle stalks of cotton
The red earth staining the hem of skirt
Humming spirituals as she stooped over the prickly bolls
Amid the warm, the familiar line of her family
She was dragged off the long rows of cotton
For all to witness her humiliation
Head hung low; she silently followed
The impression of his finely woven shirtwaist filled her eyes
The crop in his hand, swung at her legs
As he pushed her into a dark corner of the plantation
Without a sound she bore the assault
Without a sound she returned to the familiarity
Of the fields, of her family
Stooped over the long rows
Forced to conspire in her rape
Condemning generations of women
To suffer in silence as she did.

Her hands clench against the sudden pain
She leans against Momma, who guides her
Back into their small, dark cabin
When the water rushes over the dusty red
Hem of her dress, she silently prays
The child entering the world
Will not betray her secret.

She holds the small child to her breast,
Wrapped in an apron made of sack cloth,
A blanket of slavery
Tucked snugly around his
Honey colored skin and wavy hair
She could not protect him
And was forced to give him his father’s name
Forced to send him, vulnerable, into a world
Where he could only be a slave and nothing more
So earth bound spirit he became.


The first impression upon her eyes were of the brittle stalks of cotton
The red earth warm beneath the soles of her feet,
Humming spirituals as she stooped over the prickly bolls
Her mother was but a distant memory—buried up on the hill
She was passed from relative to relative,
And learned never to ask for anything
Until one day a stranger walked into the cabins,
Beating the red earth from his wide-brimmed hat
He asked for a cool drink of water, and winked at her
He told her she was beautiful,
Pulling her hair free from a tight wrap of rags
Lifting her tired, and aching feet as he swung her by the waist
Spinning her in a light dance
Her family frowned, at his honey colored complexion,
His hair glossed into straight waves—
The grandson of a mulatto slave.

She was swept off the long rows of cotton
With something pretty—a bit of lace, a shiny button
She followed silently, into a dark corner of the plantation
Not understanding the sudden turning
Someone who seemed so gentle now forcing himself on her
He tore into her body, then her mind
Leaving scars so deep that a generation of women
Would turn against their own beauty, hiding in shame
Hating the spark of life in their eyes—as she did.

At fourteen her eyes have dimmed
She gasps as a sudden pain fills her belly
Her time has come,
She stumbles back into the darkness
To bear her child, alone
Her screams join that of a small cry
Solemn eyes blink open for the first time
Small hands grasp for the warmth of her body,
The child would receive his father’s name,
Would inherit his honey colored complexion and wavy hair
And a generation of secrets
Amidst the living, earthbound spirits gather.


Her first impression upon her eyes were of the shadows lingering
Against an empty wall, in an empty room
How small she felt, how all alone
She loved to run outside, barefoot
To dig her toes into the softness of the black dirt
She never had to pick cotton,
She attended school during the day
She knew what it meant to be poor
But not what her ancestors endured
So that, even poor, she would be so blessed
She never knew of the tragic past
The secrets her family carried,
Heavy as sacks of cotton,
Would have remained hidden
If not for her honey colored complexion,
And wavy hair, and the earthbound spirits
Gathering amidst the shadows.

Earth bound spirits were drawn to her—
A beautiful face hiding behind
The blackness of her unruly hair
A voice strong enough to carry the truth
Yet unspoken
She stood against the rows of cotton,
Her pain to connect with that of the past
When she met a much older man,
Who dressed so fine
And talked so smooth
And promised to hold her forever
She didn’t understand what he meant
Until he pinned her down,
His hands tore into her,
His weight smothering her small body
He never said he loved her
He pretended not to hear
When she cried and begged, and tried to push him away
So she grew still and prayed to the lingering shadows
…take the pain away
Her tears joined ancient tears
Bleeding into the earth,
Turning the very dirt red
With blood
Tilled from that deep wound
Earth bound spirits return to
Another generation’s picking season.


Her eyes have dimmed as she pretends not to notice
The fear she has of him
Silently she serves,
Hoping she can make things right
Her story would have become
Another generation of tragedy
If not for lingering shadows,
Calling her home…
Leading her to long rows of cotton
Cabins disintegrated into the weeds
The earth still so red,
Now as her own soul bleeds.

She discovered her past—
Even as what remains was lost
To denial and decay,
She pieced together the memories
Through stories
Through clues left in historical records
Through the warm and familiar line
As she stood amidst earth bound spirits
In the records, she discovered something strange
Was it fate, she could not say
That the man who instilled so much fear,
Had the same name
The exact name
Of the slave holder
Who instilled fear in her ancestors
Who swept her grandmother from the field so long ago
Who pinned her down with his body
Impregnated her with shame
And forced generations to deny
their honey colored complexion and wavy hair,
so that they only existed as earth bound spirits.

When she found the strength to face her fear
To look in his eyes,
No longer serving the rage
His hands turned to steel
And his rage hammered into her
When she was shoved onto the floor,
And the door slammed into her side
And he forced his way into the place
That never truly was home
She found the scream she suppressed so long ago
No longer begging—
Pain opened a feeling she had almost forgotten,
Somewhere she felt life
And embraced that spark.


Even after she fled,
He would not let her go
He wanted her to suffer
And would inflict pain
In any way he could get to her
Was it fate, she could not say
That the man with the slave holder’s name
Stole the stories and photographs
She collected to remember her family
Stole the very records
Of her family’s place in history
A part of her felt the most profound loss—
For so long her ancestors, her grandparents
Had their lives defined by a
Carefully constructed lie, forced on them
Had their voices suppressed
Had secrets imposed on their children
And generations lost their truth
Only the cotton that rose from the bloodied soil
Could speak for them.

Too weak to stand,
Her body fell to the ground
Too weak to cry
She shook uncontrollably
All around shadows gathered
Voices whispered and shrieked,
As a wind with no direction
She had to let the photographs fade
She had to had to let the stories dispel
She had to let the records return to dust
For in keeping them so close,
So trapped in her grief
So trapped in a struggle, generations old
Earth bound spirits they would remain.

For a long time she lay against the earth
Noticing the colors of creation around her
A rust colored fox skittering in the brush
A yellow dandelion against the drying grass
Noticing the rough contours of a leaf
The faded gray of an irregular stone
The stories of her family
The stories of her life
Were found again in the stillness
And in the colors, and textures
That although silent,
And often trampled upon
Could not be denied.

Earth bound spirits,
She called them by name…
All those who had suffered
Who had been forced to carry secrets
Who had been beaten, abused
Who had been betrayed
Who had been denied love
And spread her arms,
As if she were turning the pages
of her family album
When she closed her arms,
She hugged her memories close to her heart
Then shook her hair free
So that it fell in wild tangles down her shoulders
And watched as the shadows dispersed
Into brilliant rays.

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