Poetry 005: The Cabin

The Cabin

A spider emerged from the old man’s beard like lazarus from his sleep.
Perspiration filled his face as he rowed along the river’s weep
The boy held the wog’s life in his hands like the chains that were his keep
He had to drown before he died, their hate was in the deep.

Breathless the wind had shut it’s eyes, the woods had gone to sleep.
The birds had nested, the owls resigned, this fall was much too steep
The sun from dawning had declined, darkness played his weep
He had to drown before he died, their hate was in the deep.

Rage, a canvas of crimson veins, barred his eyes from sleep,
And chained in the thought of the stainless maid detained in darkness’ keep.
The old man’s wrought was done in sort so the boy would never weep
The wog had to drown before he died, their hate was in the deep.

The stench of death oozed from the heart of the lark that wouldn’t sleep,
Like clotting paints gore covered his skin, the tears of wounds that seep.
His life chained in and held by the hands that weighed him for his weep.
He was going to drown before he died, their hate was much too deep.

The thought of her skin pressed upon his, proved to be his keep,
Away from the pain and the strain of the steel that barred his soul from sleep.
How fair and how soft, how subtle and sweet was sorrowful maiden’s weep
She knew he would die and drown for a touch from a love that truly was deep

Twas the golden lock that she cut and gave to the graven wog to keep,
A piece of a heart to be kissed and stroked when the sun set off to sleep.
How foul and cruel when the sun like a jewel, hung high to show the steep
And doom to death one half of the two who were arm in arm asleep.

The boat they placed on bank-side rocks and ushered the Lark whose weep
Did pierce the air that breathless bowed, and stung the edge of the steep.
With boulders chained to the frame of the graven Lark whose tears did seep
And flow like the river whose hands would pull his love into the deep.

For a moment, sailing in the air, his nose caught the changing scents.
The odor of fermented hate gave way to the smell of the river’s flowers;
They, like his aching heart, mourned with and saluted him.
Slightly drowned in the still morning air, they watched him through his hours.

He smiled as with a splash he plunged into the pool at the foot of the steep
To taste of endless, chain-less care, and sample freedom’s weep
His hand in his pocket holding the golden lock now his to keep
He breathed his last and thirsted not and slept.

© Denis Adide 2010

Building the Cabin


“We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us.” Franz Fannon

This poem began as a line in a lecture discussing the effective use of imagery. The first line and its striking image gave me the first character in the narrative: the questions concerning the old man and his, obviously unkempt beard on account of the spider churned in my mind. I was yet, however, to find the right narrative for him.

The idea for The Cabin came when I got home that weekend and found Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin on my desk, I had just purchased it. This Book and its discourse on slavery is what inspired me to write the poem.

The thought of a cabin as an enclosure sat well as a model for writing on an aspect of slavery. It led me to settle on the rigid strong rhymed quatrains: they were to be my chains/ borders within which to hold the narrative; the chains also expressed in the choice of lineation. I did however break with the rhyme as well as the rhythm on the eighth verse in order to single out the dying slave’s experience. There also a structural break on the last line to highlight his discontinuity; he is killed rather than dies.

On one level, this poem is a lament for the plight of slavery and the stemming inequalities of race in all aspects. It is also about societies (and this is from all the different ethnicities) responses to miscegenation over the post-slavery period. Though the narrative is negative in its approach to this theme, the character of the girl and the slave boy are what I have chosen as representatives of positive progress.

Moreover, the dominant thought when writing this poem was that of exploitation. The refrain ‘he had to drown before he died…’ was to highlight the effects of the economic constrains on the undeveloped nations. By economic constrains I refer to issues, such as third world debts, that leave whole nations somewhat helpless with mountains to climb. The slave boy’s only taste of freedom is right before he drowns. In the same manner, the developing world was ‘rowed’ into the situation that it’s currently in and left, bound by post imperial nuances, in an economic free-fall.

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