The Whip

History lives at my house,

It hangs on the left wall

Of the living room’s entrance.

Silent and yet menacing

With its coiling and dried body

That forms a pointed snake’s

Tongue— hissing obedience

Before it stings— history sings violent

Welts like the one seared on the back

Of my right thigh— the whip, a twisted

Cowhide, hisses before landing on soft

Skin, begging a dance in a carnival of pain.

Your intention was never to skip and hop,

But steps are avoidance measures

So exposed skin will not grow

Mountains, only to explode

A lava of blood— history is

Blood flowing— a hand gripping

Your collar and swinging a rage handed down

From overseers. The door to my childhood home

Opens onto an old plantation, and memories

Snake in to sting the present

With delirious bites— The whip hisses

And skin reveals how the songs

One sings can take you back to

Nights of crushing souls

Where bananas and sugarcane

Mature with blood.

Patrick Sylvain is a poet, social critic, and photographer. Sylvain was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has been published in several creative anthologies and reviews, including: African American Review, Agni, American Poetry Review, Aperture, Callaloo, Caribbean Writers, Transition, Ploughshares, SX Salon, The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. Sylvain’s academic essays are anthologized. Sylvain received his B.A. from the University of Massachusetts, an Ed.M. from Harvard, and an M.F.A. from Boston University as a Robert Pinsky Global Fellow. Sylvain is on the faculty at Brown University’s Africana Studies. Sylvain is also the Shirle Dorothy Robbins Creative Writing Prize Fellow at Brandeis University. His poetry chapbook, Underworlds, is published by Central Square Press (2018), and he also has a forthcoming publication with Beacon Press (Essay, 2020).

Barzakh Mag