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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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our songs / our shouts / our forgotten lives / echo through this valley

strong men screaming from the dungeon / of the new hull . . . / Leroy struggling past crabs-in-the-barrel to

aborted rebellions that ended / in Parish churchyard hangings



Return to English Turn


                                By Tom Dent



traveling along

river road


nouvelle orleans.

come to

this place to barren levee called

english turn


it is here bienville

convinced english

this land french

in 1699

sign say


it is here

chained to the hulls of ships

we begin our neo-european forced journey:

     the land of misty riches leads to

     the project called Desire


if we could look closely enough

we could see the sediments

absorbed by the river

river he who does not forget.

Bienville's french like invading bees

swarming upriver

establishing style by pushing

the people who live here out

bible pronouncements with strong

musket seasoning,

the best french cooking . . .

and us?

us in the hull




in the hull

the musics of our ruptured memory

clashing with the grating roar

of chains


& soon all along this winding


plantations thrive

off the work

of Leroy

& Beulah:




great houses

massive forms

and still we hear the music of chains.


the boats slipping up & down this

muddy snake:

cotton, sugar

the sugar cane, the cotton bale

corn, oranges

the corn stalk, the orange tree

oil, tobacco

the quick-dollar turn rig

the harsh-taste perique

boats up & down

& around

propelling goods for france england

cincinnati memphis holland

st. louis china south america

chain-forced hull energy

trying to bring this river under control

control commerce control

control machine control

control dollar control.

and even our music was stolen

made circus show for drunk

whiskey dreams not ours

made entertainment for newly

americaine straw-hatted rulers

who laugh till they sweat

through dey seersucker suit,

wipe their brows over oysters,

contemplate next move.

the river contains all this:

he who does not forget.


and during all this

our songs

our shouts

our forgotten lives

echo through this valley

strong men screaming from the dungeon

of the new hull . . .

Leroy struggling past crabs-in-the-barrel to

aborted rebellions that ended

in Parish churchyard hangings

the dungeon of the new hull

Beulah in the fields, in the white uniform

whispers between Leroy & Beulah

at midnight

whispers of tomorrows for the children

& other whispers

but still chained



in the hull


& the music from all this:

     song of Beulah's soft smile

     too raucous laughter of Leroy's

     torn memory

hull songs for us alone

songs of hulldom for us

yeah oh yes . . .

warming the heart of congealed years


those songs our only way of saying

what we could not afford to say

those songs our only understanding

of what we could not comprehend


     why were we brought here?

     why were we brought here to these

          oppressive plantations

     how did we end up being the ones?

     why were we chosen for this

     bitter joke

     of the god of fates?


we made music that absorbed all that

music that floated on the wings of memory on the wings of


travail through the muggy Saturday night

from the shacks behind the tracks.

we, doomed to hulldom, attained elegance in ragged attire.

& even when we beseeched our god of


it seemed he had forgotten us

and there was no escape

no turning back.

but the river contains all this too

river he who does not forget.



so now let us turn

to you in the city project

you who know hulldom but

     not its before the first

     american hull

you of the cannot-find-a-job know-not-why

you of the slow deaths & quick crab-barreled murders

you of the ruptured family

you of the krazee citee, de city a de pleasure unpostponed

you seething in project heat

you of the glass broken the steel jutting

the plaster chipped the streets mud

you of needle dreams, seething memories

you of city dock, city factory

you of the massa's kitchen, the praline mammy

you of the stolen music

you of the music that drowns rain

     soothes cuts from shards

you of the questioning who-am-i who knows not


you of the misty hull with one leg out of the steel hull

     masking as modern civilization

you confused, struggling for direction, for a way

     to end forced journeys

you who listen to the river's voice

     river who does not forget

the you who is each of us


let us return to english turn

rip up the signs

wipe out the legacies

pledge no more forced journeys


     no more english turns

     no more spanish turns

     no more french turns, portuguese

     or german turns


rip the markers of neo-european conquest from


plant a new one marking


     our turn

our turn to flow out of the hulls, onto the decks,

     take control of the pilot wheels, choose the

     direction of our own journeys, for the first

     time in this valley

our turn, but never forgetting the forced journeys.



there is a song the old griot sings

about the uprootings of

european markers

& the planting of baobab trees

& we hear it now

winding around us

caressing us with its ripples of Kora notes.

it is a tune we have heard many times

containing notes we do not now know

but pleasing

growing stronger now


its clear music

skipping across the muddy waves

of the river

Source: From a Bend in the River (1998), edited by Kalamu ya Salaam

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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