September 15, 2010
Dear Mrs. Ann Cunningham:
I came across your home, The Rosemont Plantation, in my research on South Carolina history. I immediately called my mother to let her know what I had found, as she grew up in the same town of Waterloo. When I told her the name of the estate, she said, “Cunningham.” “Yes,” I said; “that’s the name of the family that owned the estate.” Mom replied, “That’s also grandma’s surname.” Rachel Cunningham. For the past ten years, I have prodded my mother to tell me Rachel’s last name, but she could not remember it, until I mentioned the plantation, then she unearthed it.
Mrs. Cunningham, there’s no way for me to bring this up gently; I believe that your family owned mine. The truth that no black or white person wants to hear or bear, but here I am offering it up, my face not turned away from this force. But, I must tell you though I appear bold, I am as broken as my family line. In me and in us, there’s a deep well that needs to be filled. The words owned and owe though they are only two letters from being the same, are worlds apart in their meaning, as are the two of us.
Mrs. Cunningham, I am writing to you because I know that you hold your family dear, as I read of the work you have done to revitalize your family estate. I also understand that you ran a similar campaign for Mt.Vernon. As a dutiful daughter, I am doing the same for my family, though not with a home, but with my lineage. I would like to trace and make it as whole as possible. I would like to acknowledge and honor those that came before me and with my words, I plan to leave my ancestors standing, intact and with the dignity every person wants and deserves.
Mrs. Cunningham, I would appreciate your prompt response to this letter. Though almost two centuries separate us, I have nowhere else to turn, just you replying from beyond time. I would most appreciate any information regarding my ancestors: ledgers, proof of purchase, anecdotes or especially keepsakes, that remain in your possession, as they would be both valued and honored in my family.
I would also be pleased to learn Rachel’s parents’ names and to learn how they spent their days. I do not consider this too much to ask, as my freedom is intricately woven to theirs. I am waiting for their feathers to add to my wings.
I say, boy, pay attention when I’m talkin’ to ya, boy.
He’s pock marked, and bullet ridden.
Learns to dance, duck and dodge
with his head raised or lowered.
He knew either way: they coming for you.
Boy be another way to pin you into place.
Grind metal into precious flesh,
a weighted word aimed and hurled,
meant to maim––slow kill preferably.
At the Poinsett Hotel
he’s back bent busboy busy
clearing tables and washing dishes
trying everything he knows
to grow full height into becoming a man.
His change so short he figures he can’t there from here.
One day he knows, If one more person calls me boy. I’ll kill em.
Instead of punching the clock the next day
he finds the Air Force Recruitment office.
Signs his legal name: Johnny Clifton Redmond,
exchanges apron for fatigues.
HANG MAN (WOMAN)
As kids, what did we know?
We drew the noose.
We thought it just a guessing game,
but mama’s mouth as scissors
told us otherwise.
Later, I learned what she could not say.
I felt how trees leaned
against our favor.
We were not meant
to be written in but hung.
Now, I carry
the brunt and burden
of all the names I spill,
but cannot spell
into each and every blank.