Thu | Sep 16, 2021


Published:Sunday | August 1, 2021 | 1:32 AM

Emancipation Day

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.

Behind these

the plantation is sketched

at Canboulay.

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.

Ann-Margaret Lim

From Kingston Buttercup; Peepal Tree Press: 2016