122: Whipping Tree

May 14, 2019 · 5:00
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Whipping Tree
by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

          Laurel Grove Cemetery South, Savannah, Georgia, 2018

Where are the whips & hands
that risked their own history
to lash lessons of blood
upon black bodies roped
against these simple oaks?
The marks are too high
to touch now, the evidence too
grotesque to scab our wailing eyes.
I am trying to translate a word
that glows like a chain. It is nearly
God. The thick trees have grown tall
beyond their unbearable childhoods.

In the tree, I see which way the master
snapped his wrist, turned directions, changing
his mind when the body didn’t scream loud
enough, when the eyes of the slave refused
to look away from the master she once nursed.

Were there days he tired from bringing the whip
across his thin freedom & did he throw his ugly work
to another man as he walked, tenderly,
to a house he dared to call his home?

          The south stands in the throat of a tree.

Truth is a scraped breath between glorious
brown limbs. How hard was it for them
to gather their blistered family into gentle arms
& keep singing to Jesus? I want what flesh
they hymned. Every flap of skin crying
& glowing red in faith.

          I can’t look away from these unbroken trees.

I am aware that we are living in the middle
ring of terrorism. The trouble of scars
bleeding through new maps. The tree
trying, alone, to survive our dead
names in the stripped bark.
 

 
 
 

Courtesy of poet.