To Phillis Wheatley’s Mother

by Cornelius Eady

I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast?

—Phillis Wheatley

They say your daughter is a rare orchid.
She lives in a fancy house on a high street.
They named her after the ship
Which bore her, wild (they claim)
Across the waves.

They say your daughter is a coo-coo’s egg.
She walks the street in English garb.
She did not fill the shark’s belly.
She does not sweep, hoe, or breed.
She stood just once upon the block.

Your daughter is as exotic as white pepper.
She reads, she travels, and when she dreams
A clean head kisses a starched pillow.
She can cradle the owner’s spell book
’tween her dark hands.
She has learned to sing in robbers’ tongue.

Your daughter’s quill makes patriots blink.
Her black skin, spooled
Parchment, poem, bill of sale.
God has given her a kingdom

You can hardly pronounce.
Sometimes, in her famous book
A line will slip,

And she is returned, unrefined,
Before Mrs. Wheatley scooped
The sickly child,
Fed her broth and bound books.
Alas—my dusky mother, she writes.
If only she knew: the first note
Of mercy
Is pain.

Published on June 10, 2020

First published in Harvard Review Online January 25, 2018.