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Ode to the Battle of Kitombo


by Amber Johnson

Have you touched yourself lately?
Not played with, messed with, toyed with yourself
But really touched yourself.

Have you felt along your shoulders?
Prodded at that smooth curve of flesh,
Felt the sharp blades stab your cautious fingertips.

Have you traced the column of your spine?
Noted the creak and sway of bending bone,
Shivered at the twinge of nerves beneath the skin.

Have you touched lower?
Caressed your thick thighs,
Stood in awe of the muscles flexing within.

How about your knees?
Knobby and odd under the thin skin,
Popping and locking in their sockets.

Much lower now,
To where calf meets foot,
And ankles withstand the pressure of you.

When you touched your ankles,
Did you feel anything strange?

Did you feel anything foreign?
Something cold and hard against your warm, soft body?

I ask because you act weighted,
Held down by some force.

Please help me understand, my brotha, my sista,
Do you feel something there?
Are your ankles bound and I just can’t see?

To me, my people, there are no chains,
No visible restraints that keep you still.

Stop believing the angry sons of former masters,
Masters who put cotton in your ears then beat you when it fell out

You ran empires before they granted you republics.
You shined with gold before they draped you in irons.

At Kitombo you stood hand in hand,
Nations united in the knowledge of their worth.
Black bodies stood with the power of river and land,
White bodies drowned under waves, sank into sand.

At Kitombo you battled the bringers of chains,
You made him bleed, he who wanted you bound.
Your proud odd knees refused to bend,
You stood and fought until the very end.

And even when the chains finally did clamp down,
And you were dragged into stone prisons and wooden bowels,
Even when you were pulled across vast oceans and sold in muddy markets,
The knowledge of your past was bright in the face of the new land’s darkness.

And after the memories of gilded staffs and supple skins faded away,
After syllabled names were severed for the ease of weaker tongues,
When the greatness of the motherland became shrouded in mystery,
Your very genes kept alive the truth of your noble history.

Every atom of you sings with freedom,
Yet you stand there trapped.
Stop listening to the voices of oppression,
Start listening to the song running through your essence.

From stubborn curls,
Breaking plastic teeth and snapping rubber grips,
Every follicle defying gravity,

From broad nostrils,
Seizing air into pink tunnels,
Funneling life into organs hell-bent on expansion,

From wide mouths,
Lips plump and expressive,
Sharing kisses like honey and spitting dozens like acid,

To thick necks,
Tilting back heavy domes of brilliance,
Can’t you feel the tendons relax when you look up?

We’re back at your shoulders,
Your proud, wide shoulders,
They were built to carry an ego you refuse to display.
Not a conceit based in money, looks, and status,
But a real ego, one based on soul.

Here we are again, gliding down your back,
That magnificent arrow to heaven.
Why do you ignore its direction?
Why do fight to look down?

The shackles are in your mind.
The chains manifest when you refuse,
Refuse to recognize your worth.
They disappear when you claim your pride.

Now once more, touch your ankles.
Register your freedom my people,
Claim the knowledge of your soul,
The only thing you’re slave to is your ignorance.

Look to Kitombo for courage.

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

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