Wendell Berry

My Great-Grandfather’s Slaves

     Deep in the back ways of my mind I see them
                going in the long days
                over the same fields that I have gone
                long days over.

    I see the sun passing and burning high
                over that land from their day
                until mine, their shadows
                have risen and consumed them.

    I see them obeying and watching
                the bearded tall man whose voice
                and blood are mine, whose countenance
                in stone at his grave my own resembles,
                whose blindness is my brand.

    I see them kneel and pray to the white God
                who buys their souls with Heaven.

    I see them approach, quiet
                in the merchandise of their flesh,
                to put down their burdens
                of firewood and hemp and tobacco
                into the minds of my kinsmen.

    I see them moving in the rooms of my history,
                the day of my birth entering
                the horizon emptied of their days,
                their purchased lives taken back
                into the dust of birthright.

    I see them borne, shadow within shadow,
                shroud within shroud, through all nights
                from their lives to mine, long beyond
                reparation or given liberty
                or any straightness.

    I see them go in the bonds of my blood
                through all the time of their bodies.

    I have seen that freedom cannot be taken
                from one man and given to another,
                and cannot be taken and kept.

    I know that freedom can only be given,
                and is the gift to the giver
                from the one who receives.

    I am owned by the blood of all of them
                who ever were owned by my blood.
                We cannot be free of each other.