Message from Egururu
We don’t see a shadow unless it’s already been cast.
We saw our elders passing through the Valley of the Shadows,
the Shadow of death. We smelled the decaying flesh, saw
the bloated bodies. We recognized them nonetheless,
our mothers and fathers, our aunts and uncles, our babies unborn.
The ocean Atlantic was transformed.
It is the River Styx, running crimson, running
Blood Red. We see our reflections in the water.
We want to turn away.
We cannot. We have to look.
We have to
Charon is disguised as Slave trader,
captaining the Middle Passage. He has stocked his ship
with desperate souls. We are praying for ascension, to fly,
but if not to fly, to die and be lifted
up and away. We pray
for death descending. We fling
the only thing left. Do we not own our lives? We fling it overboard,
into the warm water grave. The waves wait patiently
for us. The rest of us remain down below,
buried in the bowels of the ship’s living hell.
While George Washington was forging a new nation,
our elder parents were birthing our family.
Her name was Egururu.
Our blood runs though Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire,
and here, in America.
Through tobacco and cotton fields, through thick and thin treed forests
our elder father, our elder mother, they found
each other, their bodies, their spirits came together,
warming the North Carolina soil.
It was here Egururu was born
and given the only gift she could keep—her name.
Not caring about the gift, her master gave her his chosen one
and she was reborn
without even a surname until she married and
became a Gatling only because her husband
was owned by one.
My name is Egururu,
no matter what they call me. When you say my name, you tell my story.
So she told all of her children about the shadows.
And we repeated it to our children, and so on,
and so on. And now,
for we are telling it to you.
Cynthia Robinson Young’s work has appeared in Sojourners, Poetry South, The Ekphrastic Review, and Catalpa: a magazine of Southern perspectives, among other journals and anthologies. She is a graduate student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.