• Call + Response

Nkyinkim by Veronica Elizabeth Thomas

Day in and day out, I pluck and pull.

I push my straw hat higher on my head, just enough to block the sun from my eyes.

Sometimes, I stop. I know I shouldn’t, I should keep moving, head down, eyes down, back down, hunched, picking and pulling. But sometimes I need to stop. I see you in my mind. Tiny and warm. I remember kissing you on your forehead and holding you tight to my bare breast. I couldn’t give you anything else. There was none I could give except my body.

And when you’re older, old enough to pick, stop and think. Will you feel me? Will you feel me in your bones?

Will the ache I feel in the crosses of my palms or the bend in my back from laboring under the Virginian sun come to you?

And after a long days work and the threat of hot whips wilt, I am able to think at my own pace. Near the muddy edge of my Mistress’s favorite lake, I remove my straw halo and wash the heat from my face.

I touch the absent space above my belly. My Mistress didn’t want you here for long. She said she wasn’t going to have that bastard walking on her land. She said that you weren’t going to look like me no how. I wait for the water to calm to peek at my reflection.

Will you see me? Will you look upon these hills we call nostrils and the dip of my cupid’s bow, the tight pull of charred skin under my chin and think, was this yours?

Will these eyes be yours too? Do I want them to be?

If you hear this voice again in another time, at another place, from another mouth? Will it ring through your drums with familiarity?

Will your chest burn with a longing that transcends all rationality? Will you look upon the open cotton fields, past the forests of oak subjugators and bush hounds, past the branches that swing low and lash our backs, and think, freedom is within me?

I hope so. What’s past is prologue.

Day in and day out, I think of you. Do you think of me?