How can we measure the gladness
of August morning as the dawning
of the first day of freedom
when we were never enslaved?
How can we measure the loosening
of shackles, the lowering of bars
if we cannot show the scars?
How can we calibrate the distance
we need to travel from the history
that holds us hostage even now?
. . .
Remember: the past is only half the circle.
Our task is not to grieve or count
the wounds but to free ourselves
from mental slavery.
Only then will First of August satisfy
the thirst in us to honour those
who have gone before; to hail
the future at the door.
Then we can truly celebrate
our freedom day in any way
we undertake to close the circle.
To wheel and come again.
- Olive Senior
Poet Laureate of Jamaica
The emancipation declaration
is posted on a palm tree
that reaches for the sky.
Shackles are being dropped in a grave;
a boy’s whole body grins
as he shovels them in.
A woman on a bench,
a bible beside her,
offers her baby to the sky.
A whip – a dead snake –
lies under the feet of the man
with a jubilant face, jubilant hands.
A girl is on her knees
in witness to the shackle burial
and the celebration.
the plantation is sketched
As the canefields burn
all hands off deck
jouvay in jubilant air.
There’s a ship,
distant, unrigged, skeletal
that squats, like memory, on the sea.
From Kingston Buttercup; Peepal Tree Press: 2016