We lived, if the sun shone, or where it did not, skulked,
Shackled and weary, weary, o.
What kind of nakedness strips the soul to the bone?
Our futures were coin in another’s pocket, spun for hazard
And our lives upon it, glinting faces in a shaft of light,
Flashing in the dripping bulwarks of our outward voyage.
Stripped, we were, worked to sleep, made to toil and reap,
Ours was the effort of sweet empire, but never its reward.
But when we came to this place of cold shores and rain
We took hard-won freedom wrapped in black forgiveness;
At last we thought we had welcome and honour instead of chains.
Once again, we gave our hours and days to labour;
We put our backs into work and the profit of work
Seldom for ourselves for we had learned to be unselfish.
In half-a-hundred years, as before, the families we grew
Sundered, some remaining, some returning to other homes
And places too long lost in time to matter.
In half-a-hundred years, we thought the wounds had healed,
And belonging seemed a possibility, when we could wash away
The scars of shame and the sweat of ownership still clinging
To our skin like prejudice, our indelible mark of Cain.
We are the children of your slaves and their children’s children;
After generations in thrall, we paid the hard currency of endeavour
To wipe away the sins of the past and in time we came
To you of our own free will.
In the rain, on these cold shores, we wore the garments
Of our former masters and thought we too were acceptable.
Ships and prisons, and now planes, in such dungeons,
Life is systematically obscured like the sun behind a cloud,
And we are stripped back to bone again, the flesh of our becoming
Flensed along with whatever honour and respect we had.
We are as naked now as we always were in their eyes;
Those who saw us as goods for sale in that brutish past
Simply swept its brutality aside under the sham of repentance.
We have been stripped again, taken on ships and planes,
Home to where our fathers and mothers were first oppressed;
They did not belong and nor, it seems, do we.
So many homes, so much denied;
Behind the official, old-colonial faces
Nothing much is changed, least of all
The cold-hearted deceit and gall.
© Brian Hill
Brian Hill. 50 years a poet. One-time designer and film-maker; long ago, the rhyme-slinger, cartoon cowboy, and planetarium poet; now feverishly stringing words together in the hope of making sense.Brian blogs as Scumdadio (don’t ask).