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The African Burial Ground

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They came as Congo, Guinea, & Angola,
   feet tuned to rhythms of a thumb piano.
      They came to work fields of barley & flax,

livestock, stone & slab, brick & mortar,
   to make wooden barrels, some going
      from slave to servant & half-freeman.

They built tongue & groove— wedged
   into their place in New Amsterdam.
      Decades of seasons changed the city

from Dutch to York, & dream-footed
   hard work rattled their bones.
      They danced Ashanti. They lived

& died. Shrouded in cloth, in cedar
   & pine coffins, Trinity Church
      owned them in six & a half acres

of sloping soil. Before speculators
   arrived grass & weeds overtook
      what was most easily forgotten,

& tannery shops drained there.
   Did descendants & newcomers
      shoulder rock & heave loose gravel

into the landfill before building crews
   came, their guitars & harmonicas
      chasing away ghosts at lunch break?

Soon, footsteps of lower Manhattan
   strutted overhead, back & forth
      between old denials & new arrivals,

going from major to minor pieties,
   always on the go. The click of heels
      the tap of a drum awaking the dead.

Source: Poetry (March 2014)

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This poem originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

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The African Burial Ground

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