Slave Gag

by Jeanie Thompson

Heavy, heavy in my hand, like an iron horseshoe
hammered flat, with a small tongue inside it
to rest on the tongue of a person
who should be quiet, gagged.
In fifth grade we didn’t understand the abstraction, slave,
but I knew that this horror I was holding
had been intended for someone
with a mouth for talking, for singing,
for saying something when it was time to be quiet.

There in the classroom
I tried to imagine it in a mouth,
in a person working in a field, in my mouth,
on my tongue, but my mind
spit out the image because it could
weight the heft of that thing in my hand,
or touch what once touched someone
who stood in a field wanting desperately to sing
or curse the empty sky.

Poem reprinted, by permission of author, from White For Harvest, River City Press, 2001.