five

 

Wall Street

      A.   Construction 1653-85

Whether one more or less
“A,” rampart or Walloon
Bulwark or Belgian Pilgrim

De Waal or Wal Straat,
the u n s e t t l e d erected
that doubled palisade and walk

way, that nubbly wooden fence, the un-
settled constructed the northern
edge of the Dutch interruption

to protect whites from the Red and other
whites, blacks built an earthen wall
where a street is named for what

a squint can no longer pinch
nor a dawdler’s knuckle mull:
the Wall on Wall Street.

 

 

 

      B.   Buttonwood Agreement
(May 1792)

Structured compensation. Standardized commission. Broker, Dealer, Trader, Speculator. Highest bidder. Buy. Sell. Shares. Bonds. Financial. Clients. Transaction. Certificate. Merchants. Securities.
                                             (Buttonballs cling to twigs through winter only to find earth’s footing come spring)
  Intermediary/short‑term/contract/profit/purchase/negotiate/bargain/distribute. Fluctuate and Hope. Regulate and Market. (Flutter) Fee. Rate. Floor commission. Wall
and Water. (Yet again)
                                              Two dozen men fettered by preference (longing to be bound by idea institution and ink) convene at a tree: its crown turns the heaven’s brittle; still the sky’s blue breaks through. (Shade: an incidental gift.) A single quill. The shaft: hollow collection of wetness. The fingertips pinching a feather: its annual shadow shedding on the back of a signer’s hand. flight=sky; flow=ink. (feather: bind them both.) Heel first: each hand crosses the document’s continent. (Ink is thought’s blood. Clotting.)

An agreement reached at the foot of 68 Wall under a buttonwood tree. Above those signer’s heads, a relentless leaf beetle inching across and conquering an olive continent. (As an infant the New York Stock Exchange—Investment. Instrument—indifferent to nature’s emerald specter.) Mid-spring is an illness: sticky buds in a petiole’s sleeve; heartwood: dim and dense; little give for a trunk coming into its own, for the wood’s secret churning world; a chunk of piebald bark sloughs off. A man coughs and coughs: seed ball hair lodged in his throat; a leaf’s coat stripped: it’s itch seeking refuge in the crow’s-feet of three                                                                                                                                                                                          signer’s eyes.

                                                                                                        That nagging Antebellum shadow adorns shipping, cotton and insurance, covering companies in the trade (black breath bought on credit). A document oblivious to the earshot: the insistent Guineamen                                               
                                                                                                                                      and illicit
phlegmy bidding for Nigras not even a block away.

 

 

 

An Honorable Harvest
(after the New York Manumission Society)

Let’s interrupt ourselves (slowly) because
nearly half of us bake the breath
and bread of our fettered brethren. Slave-
holders are we: James, Duane, Johns—
Jay and Lamb—and Alexander
Hamilton, more than one of two
Manumission Society members traffic
in the epidermis of others.
                                                Shout it down
in The South, as a trade, as an idea
or on the islands. But (y)ours is milder:
let the suffering slide when and if
or if and when there’s an honorable
harvest; yet somehow hypocrisy’s
crop crops up in (y)our own colony.

 

 

 

This is Sorcery
(1712 New York Slave Revolt)

I.    Incantation

Suck the sun from the palm
then the ichor of the pinky
powder the elbow‘s low tide

the puddle of the knee, the shoulder’s
tines, the spatterdash and linen kerchief;
cuddle burial ground earth, soil

of the been-done gone: let bone
and absence agitate. This spirit-
filled minkisi will shield

the brethren from bullets:
“Go,” Free Peter the Doctor,
the nganga, insisted.

II    Invitation

We know where this approaching night
  must bloom, where piss and feces flower
    where noses won’t invite themselves: at Peter
     the Baker’s outhouse, we’ll meet.
2 a.m.
       At the orchard on Maiden Lane, 23
         wait: Quito, Quack, Quash, Andries’
            Peter—the porter—Roosevelt’s Tom,

Adolph’s Amba, a hodgepodge of Akan
and English (two of which were women).
Another flower will call itself fire. Petals not
of April but of flame, as Van Tilburg’s Cuffee
and his Spanish Juan set shit ablaze. Fire’s hot
fruit, glowing and ripe, spied by nearly 50
arms armed with guns and half-basket hilts.

Paw Paw and a first people’s Spanish-speaking
trio knew outhouse flames would draw
townsfolk out. With houses shoulder to
shoulder: wood: a deep wound no able-
bodied bucket brigade can stanch. These
townspeople fear what fire might do but
neither feared nor knew the statute
              and lurk of musket and axe, of right arms raised
            as far back as 11 o’clock (Peter, not the doctor
         but the porter took a dagger to Joris. Tom
       shot Andries in the chest.) (Lead is never
     a well-intentioned metal.) All these arms
  driven into nine, unwitting whites
rushing headlong to low tide a fire.

III Benediction

All rise in this court of slaughter, testify to New York’s first slave

revolt, to six who took their lives seriously

                                                           enough to kill themselves

                                                           to April and owners

deposed against their own property, to guilt

ensconced in a snarl and the conscience of a palm dithering with revenge

 

 

 

Nowadays: Dundee
(formerly enslaved, late 18th century New York)

That revolution: a blessing and curse. Freedom

   felt freer. But I can’t find artisan’s work no

more, after years where my master’d bound

   me out as a cooper. Nowadays paying

white recents costs less than maintaining a slave

   or haggling with us just-free. Free! Trader

could still sidle whisker-close, cup your bones

   (chocolate caked in his teeth like the blunt

taste of profit) when he whispers and rustles

   and tries to sell you South. Still, pantalooned

hinterland Negroes migrate here by

   the bushel. Countryside runaways,

not wanting to be noticed, seem to just hocus-

   pocus into the city’s pitted peels

 

 

 

Anatomy: Hunch

Study some of the attic’s anatomy:

skinned 2×4s. chinked ceiling. plaster: peeling.

The above. The bare.  The upright window:

prominent forehead, architectural argument;

lifted, suspicious brow in a hip roof:

that steep slope: practice: Negro

when you enter our world: hunch

 

Contributor

David Mills

DAVID MILLS is the author of two books The Dream Detective and The Sudden Country, a Main Street Rag book-prize finalist. He has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, Arts Link, Henry James Fellowship, Chicago State's Hughes/Knight Poetry Award and a BRIO award. His poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Ploughshares, Jubilat, Fence, Vermont Literary Review, Callaloo, Transitions (Harvard University), Rattapallax, Hanging Loose, Aspeers, Prairie Review and The Brooklyn Rail. He has also had poems displayed at both the Venice Biennale and Germany's Documenta exhibition. He is the subject of a poetry documentary.

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