inspired by Frederick Douglass
NOTE: These poems were written in response to
Douglass’s autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick
Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself, in the style of my
favorite type of poetry, the Kokinshu. This work is a collection of
very short Japanese poems. Each poem is 5 lines long, and the syllable
pattern is 5-7-5-7-7. There are no titles.
In response to Douglass’ description of his grandmother:
I worked all my life,
though my children were taken
and my husband killed.
My reward finally comes—
Death alone in a cabin.
In response to Sophia Auld, Douglass’s master:
Once a face beaming,
a compassionate teacher,
but ignorance gripped you—
Now a hard-hearted mistress,
Your husband’s hate, magnified.
In tribute to Harriet Tubman:
The conductor comes,
and we all call her Moses,
but he did it once.
She parts the Red Sea for us,
returns to do it again.
In response to Douglass’s quote about slaves singing:
We pick the cotton
and sing ‘til our throats are dry.
Our master is pleased,
thinking that we are happy.
At least in song we are free.