The African Burial Ground
By Yusef Komunyakaa
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.