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.

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