And Lazarus Came Forth


John Darlington Johnson was as black as the night
Swirling around him in this treacherous flight
From the torment of shame that had come to his name,
Quietly submitting to masters that came
Easily to the notion, birth sets one's status,
Daring unfortunates change the apparatus.

Betrayed and then kidnapped, smuggled into slavery...
Had it not been for those who'd need his bravery
(Entrusted to protect wherever they traveled,
Then treason's treachery his world unraveled),
He'd have died on the spot, the struggle still brewing,
No thought to himself, no concern ensuing.

It was duty and pride, made him lay down his arms,
Submit for safety of those soon on the farms
Of a land to the west, that swallowed the black man,
To digest him as an insatiate can...
They would be herded there, if survivors half-dead,
Better were conditions where cattle were bred.

Protection meant something in the hold of the ship,
In open pens and stockades after the trip,
When squeezed into quarters taking turns to lie down,
To fight for rations, their slops pitched on the ground.
When on the auction block, nothing he could do;
A kind fate smiled, and Darlington got the crew.

As plantations went, Darlington was far the best,
Profitable, progressive; many a guest
Extolled its lush locale, great beauty and fine food.
The Johnsons, royalty, in a neighborhood
Where cotton was the king, demanding, merciless...
Pretentious, polite society, at its best.

Mr. Andrew had bought them, Miss Myrtice would name them,
Each face to face with the help of Abishem,
Swahili, long ago, entering name and cost
To asset ledgers, profit tales, made or lost...
Royalty by right, became Johnson, overnight....
Stoic silence answered, soon would make it right.

But time is not a friend to a slave who's penned in,
Long hot days parade, cruel fate will send in
No redeemer, salvation is in one's own hands.
Simply, silently, he would make his own plans.
His powers of persuasion time eroded as well,
Alone, free or die, he escaped the slave's cell.

He thought not of failure, determined to succeed,
At the river his idea, at night to proceed
Upriver, not downstream where a search apt to start.
Fish and frog legs he'd eat, master of the art
Of whittling, a fish spear or frog gig, all the same,
One knife, twine and two hooks the wide world would tame.

John Darlington Johnson, blacker than darkest night,
Upstream a wet mile at a time, shunned all light,
Signs of life, a month to Memphis, two to Cairo,
A crawling solitary, past those he couldn't show,
Caught sight of, in moonlight, a man as black as he,
Wading, gigging frogs, where anyone could see.

Stealthily, he observed this able man, carefree,
Light his pipe, and start up a path both could see
Faintly. Curiosity compelled him follow
A distance. A house nestled in a hollow
With garden and shed, lie ahead. An entire day
A black, as he wished, came and went his own way.

No one to answer to? Could it be he was free,
Or was it some trap? Did he dare wait and see??
With wonder he waxed braver, raising hopes to know
If freedom for a slave, could through his soul flow
As it had long ago. In the dawn's early light
Prince John put his fear to flight and sprang upright!

A pauper dressed noble, tattered rags for his robe,
Found in one such as he, new life on this globe,
Yet, a humble spirit, independent and proud,
Being master of his own fate was allowed.
John Darlington Johnson that night chose a new name,
Lazarus Freeman, reborn prince without shame.


--Carduelis Tristis

 

 

copyright 1998, The Goober Tree Press, all rights reserved

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