Poem for Lyman Kinder Henry


Aboyade Bomani

This poem is in honor of my Grandfather who retold me the stories of my grandmother’s people and a place called Matthews Plantation in Louisiana. It was here that a slave owner by the name of Charlie Matthews tried to number the days of my Ancestor Kinder Henry. Kinder Henry walked off the plantation and made his own way towards freedom. In lieu of an editorial, my Grandfather would have me tell his favorite truth.

Lyman Kinder Henry

it was the shoes
that gaped open
their bottom lips
a river of spying eyes
tell no lies
just the wayward procession
of blind lyman kinder henry’s running
fore earth had a chance to kiss his heels
master charlie matthews found it dang blasted
knee slapping humorous
blind man 37 want to run
away from a plantation
no master charlie say to edward the overseer
and solomon the driver
don’t go out with my hounds
on the scent of a blind nigger
let him run to and fro
if them stalks of sugar cane
don’t put a splinter in his step
the river will swallow him
in one nigger sized gulp
so hold off on the hounds
I need that niggers hands in tact
sides    he just running for fun
we should all get our kicks
out of the pretentious nigger boy
I done had my laugh for today

this ole charlie talking to ya
I’m not bout to waste no bullet on yo head
you ain’t no good to me dead

I need yo fiddling hands boy
grace is calling you
grace yo fiddle
now you remember her
I need you boy
and I owns you
by the good christian god above       you mine lyman
yo hands gon make my daughter’s cotillion
as fancy as them new york city soirees
dancing sweet steps waltzing feet
gents and ladies
prominent well to do citizens
of lousiana  yo home boy
when you tired come on back
me you    and grace yo fiddle    we got a date
the natural born truth
folks didn’t know was that lyman kinder henry
could see and even more menacing
he could read paper trees stars herbs rocks animal eyes
you name it and lyman had been taught
how it lives and how to make it your friend  not your foe
let me take you back         see when lyman was born
his mama night jasmine cooked up more than
master charlie’s favorite chicken stew
she and her mama a full blooded malinke speaking bambara woman
devised a recipe that would keep lyman by his mother’s side         till death
lyman was all night jasmine had left in this part of the world
after traveler the name of her half wolof half chickasaw Indian husband
was sold up the road freed then killed
by a pick ax mob
for fancying himself man enough to
try purchase through barter
his wife son and mother in law’s freedom
with his carpenter hands
that traveler could make furniture from sight
one glance and he’d spend a whole day hammering
and sawing you out a table worth better quality

than white folks and LAWD knows
white folks don’t like niggers showing them up
so truth be told traveler’s travels was ended in part for that reason also
master charlie spend all that money in france to buy wooden furnishings
and here this raggedy patchy headed nigger busting
his pants at the seams cause he so full to the core of muscle and drive
and he can recreate france from master charlie’s own backyard
next thing doing
the call went out and the axes fell

broken man flesh strewn
from one side of matthews plantation
to waaaaaaaay down yonder
near row houses of po white folk talking trash
nobody to bless the pieces

believe I’ll run on
see what the end gon be
said I’ll run on
see what the end gon be
lyman run on
you ain’t gon worry me
lyman run on
slave catcher at your feet
lyman run on
see what the end gon be
lyman run on
charlie can’t slow yo feet

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lyman grew up hiding his sight
his mama would lead him into destruction
as to avoid destruction
charlie matthews assumed
he was a deformed nigger
from the useless belly
of a pickaniny mama
so it was decreed no man’s seed
from that day forward would enter night jasmine
cause she would probably bring into the world
more plantation liability
and one niggra’s child bearing womb
when matthews’ plantation harbored 30 or so
could afford to be sacrificed
so the truth was discarded
from black and white folks alike
as was told to everybody
lyman was blind dumb and not worth nothing
so allowing him the right to be raised
was not master charlie’s kindness
but the unfortunate nature of life
so lyman was raised to be dumb in daylight
and learned all he could hold in one tiny black brain beneath the shadows
so as he grew knowledge and hunger
for freedom oozed from every open orifice
soon enough with mama dead and grandmamma dead
no daddy no nothing but mental fear and anguish
keeping him trapped in quicksand on slave land
he decided it was as good a time as any to
take off master’s hand me down boots
then he whispered something sweet
between the strings of his daddy’s hand carved fiddle
that fiddle was the only reason master charlie remembered he existed
cause for a blind nigger he could work his hands
better than any white fiddler north, south, east or west
so master charlie’s dependence on lyman’s gift
deciphering sounds strong ears and delicate fiddling hands
kept him under the radar of jealous blacks
and white pocketbooks eager to barter with ole charlie
eager to snatch up the wondrous specimen of a maturing boyman
believe I’ll run on
see what the end gon be
said I’ll run on
see what the end gon be
lyman run on
you ain’t gon worry me
lyman run on
slave catcher at your feet
lyman run on
see what the end gon be
lyman run on
charlie can’t slow yo feet

of course there’s no record
of what happened to lyman kinder henry
but the recollection of things that showed their ugly faces
was something miraculous
when charlie came to the white realization
that lyman might have gotten himself hurt or even worse
those hands might have gotten blistered and bruised
trampling through the brush attached to nigger lyman
he sent the catchers out
and they came back slumped shoulders
dogs a mangled mess of river water moss and mud earth
no lyman on their breath
no blood stained shirt or trousers’
no nothing but confusion
nobody dared admit thoughts
maybe nigger lyman could see
maybe all them years
the nigger was laughing within
trouble with that account
was nobody in bondage could afford to openly believe it
cause master charlie was dead set on keeping that hush
it was illogical that a nigger
could have that much smarts to out maneuver a white man
sometimes when worse came to worse
slaves laughed at the one

they knew got away
but it was plantation law
any slave caught uttering the name of lyman was to be the recipient of 37 lashes
for the 37 years lyman had existed on matthews
as master charlie put it
he drowned lyman drowned
you hear me niggers
so let the dead rest
and if you thinking of following him to the river
you gon suffer his fate
sitting in the belly of a gator

if you can imagine what them boots looked like
tongues dragging the ground
poking their grimy scarred pits
laces sagging shredded strings of matted cotton
swirling everywhich way the wind blew
soles partially detached from the body quivering
in the wind
the sound of grinding teeth and leather giggles
as they were lifted by ole charlie and handed to solomon the driver
as a gift for spending two days on the hunt of lyman’s scent
the shoes were laughing at matthes plantation
and ole master charlie
and all them highly educated white citizens of Louisiana
who didn’t allow slaves
no semblance of information
that might make them realize their own human nature
their natural instinct to rise up and declare a sudden movement
of the feet a rapacious motion as if flying through air
cracking stalks of sugarcane in an emblazoned trail of freedom
but lyman would live for the day those shoes would howl
and run and run and run and keep on keeping on homeward bound

Article by Olorisha Aboyade Bomani

Olorisha Aboyade Bomani (Mawiyah Kai EL-Jamah Bomani) is a native New Orleanian and Omo OYA. Mawiyah’s writings have appeared in The Crab Orchard Review,Dark ErosCatch The FireFreeform MagazineBeyond The FrontierKente ClothFertile GroundFamily Portraits,Chicken Bones: A Literary Journal, Survival Digest QuarterlyFrom A Bend In The River and Women’s Issues and Feminism in the 21st Century. She is co-writer/director of the play Brown Blood Black Womb and of the plays Hair AnthemSpring ChickensWhat Happens to Niggers in French Quarter Nightclubs and Hoodoo Gumbo. Olorisha Aboyade is an educator who currently resides in Shreveport, Louisiana.
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