What a Fellowship by Afaa Michael Weaver

 for Mother Emanuel A.M.E.

In these clasped hands we see the seeds
of what has come to be, the tiny black faces
of children chained into ships headed to sea,

not an invitation to a better life, not a vote
for the human, but the deadened greed, a wish
against what life means to the living, a cruelty

above the requirements of evil, our ambition
to live, to survive, to grow beyond chains now
our only hope in row after row of bloody pews.

In these clasped hands we see the business
of selling human beings, white hands of banks,
the black hands of enemies selling enemies

to regal promenades in France, in Belgium,
to arrogant philosophies of enlightenment,
a plodding Kant, a foolish Hume, murderers

in the name of knowledge, architects of theft,
a broad sweep to rape the world and grow fat,
to assume, to consume, to accumulate, to kill.

In these clasped hands we see the endless heart,
proud hands that bent heads down to save them,
caring souls that made a new love from carnage,

the wreckage of lives, piles of bones crumbling
to dust in mounds all around, forming breath
from stench, forming the sweet Sunday dinner

after church, after gathering around the Word
of this new God with a promise of a redeemer,
a hand with the power to end death’s bondage.


In these clasped hands we hear the songs,
the mourning, the celebrations from worlds
left in Africa, forgotten except in the pulse

of what we remember of the drum, the stomp
of holy dances, of invoking the holy spirit
to visit, opening our prayer to wind, to fire

to the great wash of oceans, to mountains
rising and falling in visions, to dominions
over fish, fowl, beast in Eden’s contract.

In these clasped hands we hear Philadelphia,
white crochet crowns on heads of our matrons
waiting to receive communion, throats clearing

for the next hymn, the ritual cheers to pastors
stuck in old sermons, the occasional Baptist
eruption in misty A.M.E. precision, the way

we wind the stairs to building a life where
the brick and mortar are the bone and soul
of courage, of the get on up now, somehow.

In these clasped hands we hold the hope
of another day, braided on strands of grief
across what divides us, what makes us one.

Copyright©2015 by Afaa Michael Weaver
Delivered at Northeastern University, 6/23/15

Afaa M. Weaver‘s most recent book, City of Eternal Spring (Pittsburgh, 2014), received the 2015 Phillis Wheatley Book Award.

This is part 4 in the series Fallen at Charleston, guest-edited by Brenda Marie Osbey.

Fallen at Charleston

“How We Could Have Lived or Died This Way” by Martín Espada

“Notes on the State of Virginia, III” by Safiya Sinclair

“What a Fellowship” by Afaa Michael Weaver

“Black 101” by Frank X Walker

“Black Bird” by Terrance Hayes

“Live Oak” and “Riposte XIV” by Shauna Morgan Kirlew

“Fallen at Charleston” Introduction by Brenda Marie Osbey

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