(To My Dearest Sister, Dr. Maya Angelou)
There are dungeons in the Cape Coast Castle
Now without their cast-iron gates
Where, all the evil spirits of slavers, pirates, and bucaneers
Suspended head-down in brown incarceration
Under the frowning vigilance
Of Nana Tabir, the first of equals among the tutelar gods,
Seventy-seven, of this ancient town of Efutu;
There in dank misery condemned to be unsunned
For the period of their lives
And the lives of generations after them and those after them
Till the end of time; judged and condemned
Theirs souls are coffined in the bodies of the bats,
Whose eyes burn like smouldering coals but see nothing.
And they languish as bats in that hole.
Where they can hear the hissing and booing of the rollers
Of the Atlantic Sea
But sail on it no more; No passage for the wicked, says the Sea.
There in that dungeon they stagnate.
In the worm-infested turpitude of their crimes;
And the worms multiply by leaps and years;
And tadpoles scorn the pollution of the puddle.
Only the mosquito, guerrilla of days,
Immerses its larvae hanging them aslant in the water
With their probosces drawing pure air for life
To gain life to destroy life of intruders:
Thus our land was saved.
Not for them any more the cool comfort of the crescent
Smile of the moon as it glides across the silvery expanse
Of the heavens.
Beaming its chubby matronly approval on pale nights
Upon the maidens playing ampe, lithe flicks of black legs
In the lucency of happy and open hours, full of song,
And cheered by cracking reports of clapping hands:
Not for them the leisurely sight of old men,
Scions of the blind days drowning the shame
Bequeathed to them by our forebears
As our share of the burden
In endless games of oware:
The pebbles, they drop by tally pensively into the holes
As men descending into the murk of graves,
Are moistened by remorse.
How can we explain should they want to know
What crimes, what new crimes, they committed to bring on themselves
This punishment heavier and more damning
Than the wages of sin:
What if the cruel yoke had broken bone and soul
And none had lived to tell the tale.
But there are no hard thoughts here as blood flows into blood.
Where two minds meet in soft sessions of harmony
Peace is born, love, and jov
For if the happenings of the past
Could be unravelled by the mind of man
we would all be God;
One seed of maize would not be planted to rot
For us to take a cob grinning with
Four hundred and twenty seeds at harvest
And Joseph would not have been the ruler of Egypt
In the time of famine
To feed father and the brothers who sold Rim into bondage And glory.
Today those who made the grim passage
Now with sandalled feet, heads sparkling
With gold-studded fillets; aggrey beads on their wrists;
Clothed in the spendour of their indomitable spirit;
Our kinsmen, have crossed the threshold,
Drank the water of welcome and are seated
On their stools of precious wood
Telling their story
In the compounds of their ancestral homes.
The children of Adam have come to see their kinsmen:
Like the great heavens of African evenings
The shade of the doorways are peopled
With bright and shining curiosity:
The children are whispering their regrets
For five hundred years is a long time to be gone.
The gold rings, the outdooring gift of belonging,
They held in the palm of the hands,
Their fingers are too gnarled and knotted
By beast labour for painless decoration.
Now are we free
Being sons and daughters of God;
Free people with one destiny.
Wrapped in the fearless colours
Of our kente, the pride of our loom
Here we stand,
United in heart in mind and in blood
And none so bold,
None daring-and none dares,
To make slaves of us again!