Turning Point




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Sample Poems by Amy Benson Brown


More precious than sacred writ
I hold her before all at St. Philips
and promise to raise this babe
in the ways she should go.

I take you, smallest one,
from the arms of a woman swallowed
by God and the command
to be fruitful and multiply.

Each fall, our father’s seed
is sown and each spring stalk
passed to the wet-nurse or tucked
gently back into the earth. But not
this one. You are my angel.
And I, your own.

Low-Country Witness

i Terror

My head whips around
as the wheels slow.
Stopped at a crossroad, I try
not to see the ragged flag

of flesh hung on a tall pole–
a bloody head impaled,
his eyes promising hell
to any slave who would travel.

ii Mark

Not a finger could be laid
between the roads of blood
traveling her back. She had
been beautiful, a mulatto,

just eighteen when the chasm opened
where her teeth had been,
pulled to mark her
should she escape again.

iii Possession

For years he escaped often,
each time gaining possession

of himself only to be dragged back
to the tree blooming with blood and pulp.

For years he starved in jail
after surviving in the woods
on roots and a few berries.
In the end, even his color left him.

His skin yellowed and his hair ran
scant and reddish like the filth
never cleaned from his cell.
They said the smell was unbearable.

iv Flesh

The dogs picked up her scent
right quick and trackers found her
the night of the great storm, hiding
in an abandoned cabin.

They took turns tying her down
to free their barbaric flesh.
I heard her mother walked ten
miles to cradle what was left.

Prelude, 1819

Alone, Sarah rests in a Quaker boarding house in Philadelphia before sailing home.  Aboard ship is a middle-aged businessman named Israel Morris who comforts the grief-stricken young woman with conversation. At parting he presses into her hand the journals of American Quaker, John Woolman. Back in Charleston, Sarah struggles to find a way to re-enter her world. A visit to the Morris family in Philadelphia in 1821 stretches out for years. In 1829, her sister Angelina joins what has become Sarah’s exile in the North and her spiritual quest. . . .


The soft sea
cannot cradle
me. This boat
cannot rock
me, fatherless,

I buried him in sand
and dragged my sodden
limbs aboard this ship
laden with strangers.

The day is fine
bright and cool
as I watch our wake
plough the bruised sea.

The Atlantic tosses slick
frothy clouds out
of herself and drinks
them again so quick,

I almost miss
the song that mingles
with the waves’
pitch and hiss. Love—
it chants—is longer
and strong as
our little deaths.


Speak Israel, before night falls, of your sons
and daughters, eight able vessels set

to sail beyond your ken.
Tell me again the prophecy,

the promise of a generation come
to right this wrecked Eden.

Tell me more of the opening way, the breath
of God in the breast of men.

Speak Israel, before night falls. of forgiveness
and how it walks so close by sin.