Slave Trade Bracelet
Newport, Rhode Island
Those mansions we drove past, turning into shimmer in December sunlight,
those family cemeteries, snow still roosting on the tombstones—
Antique shops so small something was bound to shatter
if a boy, curious to touch the keepsakes, snatched a book out
from the bottom of a stack. In one of them
we noticed an old bracelet, which, although polished,
still seemed to hold shadows, especially in one dark spot
the seller must have missed, crafted with whatever
was available for metal in the nineteenth century,
bronze, or brass, perhaps. I’m not quite sure.
It reminded me of a shackle. And some slave trader
whose faith in the darkness of the world was stubborn
as a figurehead bracing against white-cap spray,
as it slices to some port with a purpose no one mentions anymore.
“Here now,” he might as well have said when trading, “take this,”
as if in response to the wind, which was merciless—
“Here now,” he seemed to say to me, as well,
“Here’s this piece of metal, where’s the slave?”
It made me wince to stare at it,
something familiar that made my throat shut.
It made me wince to see it sold there, too,
to say our trip itself, the mansions, each buff of the brush
to polish the metal under the poor light of some lamp
on a workbench, were simply treasures. I didn’t have the heart to tell you.
Because the slave traded for this bracelet surely must be dead, by now,
and unknown, I think he had a scar, or birthmark, on his forehead—
I think he hated politics and fighting.
And if he outlived two bright sons, I think he still sang,
or hummed, out of hope or habit, songs in the field.
If singing is a salve, a bandage for despair, I think he could sing all day.
When I think of him, I think of that one small, unpolished spot,
and traders, stubborn, believing in the darkness of the world.
How next winter, driving past this place,
which I’ve seen so many times, and often, in the worst weather,
when antiquated streetlamps make the snow seem whiter,
I’ll shudder, and despite the family cemeteries, stately with their history,
and despite the mansions abandoned to moonlight,
their glimmer scintillating solitary splendor, I won’t be convinced.
Domenic J. Scopa is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the 2014 recipient of the Robert K. Johnson Poetry Prize and Garvin Tate Merit Scholarship. He holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. His poetry and translations have been featured in Poetry Quarterly, Reed Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Belleville Park Pages, and many others. He is currently an adjunct professor of literature at Plymouth State University and New Hampshire Technical Institute. He also reads manuscripts for Ink Brush Publications and Hunger Mountain.
1. If you could spend a day doing anything (besides writing), what would you do?
I would love to return to the Czech Republic and Poland. Nothing refuels my writing-battery like traveling to foreign places.
2. Where is your favorite place to write?
My favorite place to write is in my secluded apartment. I often find that I can write rough drafts in public places, like coffee shops and bookstores, but the final drafts are always completed in the quietude of my own home.
3. You’ve been informed you will be reincarnated as an animal and you can choose, so what animal will you choose to become?
I would choose to be reincarnated as a great white shark. Originally, I wanted to be a marine biologist, specializing in sharks. They have also fascinated me.