Slave Boy


We run as if an agitated earth

were breaking up behind us, and we fight

to gain our stations at the gritty trough

half-filled with corn, where each survivor’s worth

is daily measured by another’s right

to fair apportionment denied; and off

our makeshift plates of muddied, calloused hands

ensues a squealing angry vulgar rush

to suck the greasy nourishment before

there is no more, beneath the reprimands

of our possessors, who behold the crush

of vermin squirming to and fro, and roar

with ridicule at other men’s distress.


And now the furnace of the picking fields:

my sweat, like acid, so intense the heat;

the layers of my skin in merciless

assault laid bare, as one would flay the shields

of weary swordsmen crumbling in defeat.

For I am just machinery, a tool;

and I must step and lift and strip and clear,

again, again, until all hope becomes

a moment’s respite from another’s rule,

a storm-whipped seedling doomed to persevere

until its fleeting energy succumbs.


The night, at last, should be our time of peace.

Instead a tempest rises from inside

of me – my brother kneels before the fire;

and all the creatures of the darkness cease

their plaintive calls, the churlish winds subside;

to touch his breath the spirits all conspire,

as like a starry pond his amber skin

reflects a thousand beaded silver pearls

of terror; time and motion seem to pause;

a fearsome crackling – flesh explodes, the din

of horror as a scarlet vapor curls

above bewitching firelight; and the cause

of all the misery of humankind

is set aglow upon the lustful eyes

of those in witness to the spectacle;

his swelling body thrashes in a blind

contortion at the resonant reprise,

the whistlings of the lash a chronicle

of limits to endurance, or of prey

in final battle, and we both recoil

with every searing flash of brilliant white;

the wordless ritual proceeds till day

begins, and merciful the rite of toil

to shroud the distant memories of night.


The valuation: ox and mule and I

are harvesters, production’s pulse and breath;

the traders, sure as scripture of their just

and righteous task, assess and quantify,

and probe and estimate each life and death;

like seed we will be spread among the dust.

I watch my mother’s face: ’tis just as well

they hack away her arm, so great her pain;

but all her tears dissolve in scenes of mirth

and profit, as the men who buy and sell

the bucks and hands and breeders do ordain

for us a last embrace upon their earth.

Our dearest bond is cherished; as the men,

becoming restless, hurry us along.

Once more I’d like to gather a bouquet

for her, to see her smile; and once again

to drift to slumber on an angel’s song

as all my fears of darkness slip away.



Paul Buchheit’s poems have been published by the Illinois State Poetry Society, Lucid Rhythms, and the State of Nature online journal. His happiest moments are spent reading, writing, and reflecting on carefully crafted poetry. As a retired teacher, he now devotes more and more time to this blissful pursuit.

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