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What Marked Tom?

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Did a slave song at a master’s bidding
mark Tom while asleep in Charity's womb?
The whole plantation would be called to sing
and dance in Master Epps’ large parlor room—
after work sprung from dawn and dragged past dusk,
after children auctioned to parts unknown,
after funerals and whippings. Thus
was the whim of the patriarch. No groans
allowed, just high steppin’ celebration,
grins all around, gritted or sincere.
Charity threw feet, hips, arms into motion
to please the tyrant piano. Was it here
Tom learned how music can prove the master?
While he spun in a womb of slavish laughter?

Tyehimba Jess, "What Marked Tom?" from OLIO.  Copyright © 2016 by Tyehimba Jess.  Reprinted by permission of the author and Wave Books.
Source: OLIO (Wave Books, 2016)
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What Marked Tom?

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