Talking to the Bones (spirit of enslaved New York City Chimney Sweep
Apprentice: 18th century)
What of only chimneys and flues?
This: the one moment master permitted
me to be above him
Only in filth could I gain favor
Did you ever dream?
Things like thoughts weighed
too heavy on my head
How should you be remembered?
The neck a storm; the head a cloud
unsettled by its own weather
Talking to The Bones (spirit of Joseph Castins, only enslaved New Yorker
whose full name is known and who is buried
in New York’s slave cemetery)
Had you made Joshua Delaplaine’s acquaintance, Mr. Castins?
Death: a sad cabinet is it not?
Joseph, when did Delaplaine put you in his account book?
My account: with G-d
How did you die with a given and surname?
The first shall have a last and the last shall have a first
David Mills holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College. He’s published three collections, The Dream Detective, The Sudden Country and After Mistic. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Brooklyn Rail, Colorado Review, Crab Orchard Review, Jubilat,and Callaloo. He has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, Breadloaf, The American Antiquarian Society, and the Lannan Foundation. He lived in Langston Hughes’ landmark Harlem home.
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