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A SORT OF EDEN

“Did you not hear me ask Sir Thomas about the slave trade last night?…There was such a dead silence.”

MANSFIELD PARK,  Jane Austen

 

It is fitting in certain English novels

that there should be significant absences

in Bath or London, journeys of consequence

to the colonies, and banishments

to darkest Dorset or a coastal town.

It is appropriate too that there should be

rain of whatever kind falling frequently,

forcing protagonists and antagonists

to be housebound, introspective,

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PHILLIS WHEATLEY: 1753-1784

Enslaved in the Gambia or Senegal,

scholars surmise, she survived the nauseous

and violent bottom line of the

Triangular Trade to be bought aged eight

as a maid for his wife by John Wheatley,

merchant and tailor of British-ruled Boston,

a known progressive in education.

 

She was christened ‘Phillis’ after the slave ship

that took her childhood. She was prodigious,

and was removed from domestic duties.

Tutored by his daughter, at twelve she knew

Latin,

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THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter – tale

of adultery and obsession –

was published in 1850. In the year

the Crimean War began, he became

the U.S. Consul in Liverpool,

a post gifted by his friend the President.

He did not like the job despite the fees

from the cargoes of cotton and molasses

hoisted ashore. Whether in a Hansom cab

home to his family in lodgings in the town,

on the steam ferry to the rented villa

in the gated park on the Wirral,

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THE SORES OF WAR

‘…sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments…’ TWEET, President Trump

 

In a letter to the New York Times three years

before the war, General Robert E. Lee

described slavery per se as ‘a moral

and political evil’ and, in the States,

‘a greater evil to the white man’

than the black. In 1857 Lee

had been his father-in-law’s executor.

George Custis had manumitted his slaves

on his death bed there and then but ‘no white man

was in the room’.

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THE COLSTON BUN

‘And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.’ DEUTERONOMY 12.3

‘Black deaths do not have a good press, especially when they occur in the custody of our custodians. The media leads the public to believe that our guardians can do no wrong. Racism leads them to believe that blacks can do no right. The silence of the custodial system is compounded by the silences of racism.’ DEADLY SILENCE: BLACK DEATHS IN CUSTODY,

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CONTAGION

‘O happy posterity, who will not experience such abysmal woe,  and will look upon our testimony as a fable.’ Francesco Petrarch

 

Somewhere near the estuary of the Don,

with its mudflats and meanders, north

of the Sea of Azov, and somewhere

near the Volga Delta, with its pelicans

and flamingos, north of the Caspian,

on the steppe lands are black rats and fleas

and yersinia pestis. The rats

like human warmth, and the fleas can leap.

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