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).