Flagellation of the Female Samboe Slave and Other Poems


Monique-Adelle Callahan D.

Art by Karen Schifano


Flagellation of the Female Samboe Slave

etching by William Blake, 1793

Mark the tree, a mercy in its bent neck, leaves below having scurried,
choosing to be fallen. No witness here.

Mark the men. They point in waltz, exhorting those shadowy blacks
ordained with sword-like flagellates.

And mark she who hangs, eyes match-struck gaped mouth
in stung whisper.

Mark the smooth round beginning below her milken breasts.



Lula Cottonham Walker had to work hard as a slave in Alabama, according to her later testimony, but the mother of eight children was never beaten. If the master had a sow that gave birth to a litter of pigs each year, he would not take a stick and beat it. It was the same with slaves, she offered by way of explanation.

Not sure I could count the ones between the ones I got.

I been blown through the ribcage and teeth. Took like a mouth organ an’ spat breath
to bulge till full with his or his peak.

I known hungry mouths and razored tongues since I a girl plucked canary from my mommas yawn.

Been swollen more times I can count. Some say blessed to bargain switch and lash.

Been restless in the way a frayed cloth haunt through a howling wind. I been that kine
of not still an’ my babies swung-out runts into this life.

By explanation, they keep this mamma’s hide clean so the only strike be the one struck
clear through my insides, rip me wide, then catch my babies in the caul.


Traces of It

Around our yard until his laughter
slivers the silent perch

and pinch of winter’s chill,
my husband pulls my son

on a makeshift sled in blinks. A whisper
of circles etched in

the surface of a deep snow fills in
with the dust of a

chilled wind’s afterbirth. Tracks
beginning over and

over again, struck by crosses
of iced flagellum of Pitch Pine.

This coughing of winter’s wiles
holds my husband and my son

in its delight, in its clutch.


Ask My Father

What is the difference between a pond and a lake?
I ask my father as, on the silent pond, a damselfly
wakes to a wind in the thick necklace of pond-moss.

Rocks and a tangle of birch wood and pine.
Leaves and twigs and other things fallen.
Bristle and patches of grass. The sound of birds

making half-moon dips above the water. We stand
by rocks barricading an end to the pond
and stare out over a green sea, trying to understand

the idea of place, the measurement
of silence between bodies.


Queen Elizabeth II Visits Antioch Missionary Baptist Church

Houston, Texas, May 1991

Where JESUS SAVES sweeps the signpost,
the people say, as it has been written,
Glory be to God for dappled things,
the oak’s cracked trunk, crack
in the threadbare throat of the Sunday-
morning preacher, swollen sanctuary
housing the scratch of scream. Purple-
bruised worshippers in white throttle;
the pulse of the altar’s boom and swoon
of the organ bass; glory voices
singing the song of the broken
splintered wood where Her Majesty sits
silken and steeped in history and hymns.
She claps, clutches a funeral fan, sliver
of silver purse. As the senior choir wilts
to a whisper—Glory be to God! the preacher
interjects, capitulating to the sway of fading
melody, raising it up, commandeering the pulse
and the queen awaits this ministry of the free
pews cracking creak slapped-back from rising knees.


Monique-Adelle Callahan D.

Monique-Adelle Callahan D. is associate professor of English at Emmanuel College. She is the author of Between the Lines: Literary Transnationalism and African American Poetics. Her poems and translations appear in a number of journals and anthologies, including Beloit Poetry Journal, Transition Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, Obsidian, and Bayou Magazine. Her poetry collection Anonymous was winner of Jacar Press’s New Voices Award.

Karen Schifano

Karen Schifano lives and works in NYC. She received a BA in art history from Swarthmore College, an MFA from Hunter College, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She has exhibited widely in the US, Europe, Australia, and Japan. Solo venues include Tobey Fine Arts, Melville House, and Wagner College. Group exhibition venues include DC Moore Gallery, Deanna Evans Fine Art, Minus Space/MoMA PS1, Visual Arts Center of NJ, Alfred University, and CB1 Gallery. Karen is a member of American Abstract Artists.

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