Slaves No More
In the holds of creaking wooden galleons, slaves sought remove from their sordid present with dreams of another, long-ago life on African soil.
On the cramped compartments of flimsy vessels, migrants from sovereign African nations two hundred years later, hold close their visions of another, new life on European soil.
Trapped in nets, chained, and stripped, the slaves were disabused of their own humanity and herded like chattel.
Loosening the shackles of birth’s circumstance, modern migrants, step away willingly from the bonds of their own humanity– family, tribe and name.
Slaves felt their backs whipped and African dignity shattered.
Economic migrants turn their backs on African indifference for European dignity.
Black slaves were wholesaled into American societies that did not consider them human.
Migrants seek out trails to European societies where they imagine they can, at last, become human.
On the prison galleons, when disease broke out, slaves were drawn up on deck and unceremoniously tossed overboard for the predators of the sea.
In collapsed societies, where capricious violence reigns and religious zealots seek destruction for power, life and hope are eschewed just as unceremoniously.
Slaves were conscripted into the European-American enterprise, contingent on an endless supply chain of free labor.
Modern African migrants flee the global enterprise of rich men’s contracts on minerals and oil, paid for in personal riches, private armies, contingent on slave-like labor.
A Conspiracy of Hope
Home is a state of toil for no reward, where people want work for wages but are enslaved, seek dignity but are violated, want safe harbor but are routed by crazed soldiers , love their mothers but they are raped and gutted.
Every impulse in young bodies strains to turn this insidious holocaust of hope in a place called ‘home’, into a conspiracy of hope.
And thus out of a knotted whimper and taut nerves, a kernel swells in Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Chad, and Nigeria, and grows into a calculated caravan.
Lowly Africans cannot scale their own nation’s walls of privilege, secured with deadly arms.
Lowly Africans cling to tiny footholds in Europe’s walls of exclusion, secured with immigration officials and laws.
A Caravan of Dreams
A black-hearted enterprise navigates this human line of ants crossing African borders.
Feckless palms must be crossed in silver for each ramshackle van, overflowing toilet, bug-infested bed, fetid cup of water.
The wagon-train economy is run by a powerful bureaucracy of paper issuers, runners, agents, mechanics, and smugglers who see
in each stateless migrant fleeing an existential death and dreaming of life
a number, a standing spot on a truck, and cold, crinkled currency.
The migrants keep bowed and unobtrusive during their passage
through rough hands and long nights
try not to meet lascivious eyes,
learn to survive as a number, and
clutch a pencil scrawl on a greasy note
as you would a passport and ticket.
The chain gangs of slaves were dragged in irons, across desert and dense jungle to ports in Senegal and Guinea.
Modern migrants pay for their passage in shadowy alleys, through backdoors and cattle trucks into Libya’s lawless ports.
Migratory birds fly and migrant galleons ply from Africa to Europe, and back.
Following desert thirst and pits of trafficking vipers,
the migrants must finally ford
the Mediterranean, their river Styx,
onto Europe’s shores, paradise.
By night, during summer’s fair weather, is the best time to sail.
They climb at dusk into dinghies, holding each other for balance,
with trepidation and relief at this, final, leg.
The grey rubber bubble
roars out over North African swells
flecked with polystyrene and dead fish.
At each rise and plunge,
the hundred or so exhausted bodies crush together,
and watch each other’s faces of fear, to feel less frail
as land slips away.
A bigger vessel will take them forward to their dreams.
Its faint bobbing lights
appear out of the dark sky
that obscures its rusted nuts and welded patches.
A dozen more dinghies arrive, mysteriously, from the endless horizon.
The migrants jump on–
will and sinew tight with hope, women and babies hoisted and bodies impossibly arranged on every square inch of damp deck.
The ramshackle boat groans and rocks
but the lapping sea waves sound like songs of courage.
Suddenly two boats appear, small lights growing closer, approaching purposefully,
Perhaps, the migrants think, they will travel as a caravan, or perhaps the load of human cargo will be shared more evenly.
The men are shouting. Their movements are hard. The heart seizes a little.
By night in fair weather, the Mediterranean can be an ugly lair of deception.
Over and over again, the cruel boats ram and pound the sides,
Sea rogues shout and wave guns in the black night.
Gun fire erupts,
The boat of dreams shudders, creaks, lurches,
louder even than the deafening cries of the people
jumbled and crumpled impossibly on its listing deck.
In pandemonium, faces are aghast,
breath is short,
hundreds of hands reach out,
for a hold, a body, a shirt, a shoulder
for balance and trepidation.
Each horrible assault batters the boat of dreams
and shreds its rotting wood
Bodies drawn from its cramped seating
are ejected in a flimsy second
overboard to the predators of the sea.
Amidst booming, clanging metal strikes
they are left kicking
with impossible, shocked gasps,
for foothold in a fluid.
Flailing wide-eyed men, women, and children,
cry out in shock from tight throats
already salty from the sudden, cruel plunge in the sea.
Their only comfort is the sharing, so close,
with brown soft bodies and unwinding cloths they can touch and see,
of the realization, of sinking.
Coming from nothing, they clutch in vain, at nothing.
The cruelly curved sides of boats seem mountain high
to these children of a watery planet who have never learnt to swim.
Slaves tossed overboard at steel sabre-point in the Atlantic
thrashed their legs with every ounce of programmed life force
and cried out, until one by one they lost their strength
Countless migrants who wanted, to be counted
Simply as men and women of the human tribe,
To walk with the dignity and spirit of life,
and fulfill their own evolutionary potential,
cry out, but slowly, one by one, quietly slip into the abyss.