Nat Turner in the Clearing

Poem for a Tuesday — “Nat Tuner in the Clearing” by Alvin Aubert

Ashes, Lord–

But warm still from the fire that cheered us,
Lighted us in this clearing where it seems
Scarcely an hour ago we feasted on
Burnt pig from our tormentors’ unwilling
Bounty and charted the high purpose your
Word had launched us on, And now, my comrades
Dead, or taken; your servant, pressed by the
Bloody yelps of hounds, forsaken, save for
The stillness of the word that persists quivering
And breath-moist on his tongue; and these faint coals
Soon to be rushed to dying glow by the
Indifferent winds of miscarriage-What now,
My Lord? A priestess once, they say, could write
On leaves, unlock the time-bound spell of deeds
Undone. I let fall upon these pale remains
Your breath-moist word, preempt the winds, and give
Them now their one last glow, that some dark child
In time to come might pass this way and, in
This clearing, read and know….

In Furious Flower. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004, p. 46.

Alvin Aubert was a scholar, poet, and editor, shaped by the African American culture and rural life of his childhood along the Mississippi River. He left school early to work, joined the Army, and earned his GED. After his service, Aubert returned to school, earning a Master’s degree from the University of Michigan, where he was a Woodrow Wilson National Fellow. His writing was strongly influenced by the blues tradition. In addition to his six books of poetry, Aubert was a gifted educator. He taught at Southern University, SUNY Fredonia, and Wayne State University. He founded and edited the award-winning journal Obsidian, noted for publishing works in English by writers of African descent worldwide. “Nat Turner in the Clearing,” written about the 1831 slave rebellion in Southampton, Virginia, was Aubert’s first published poem. On a hot summer day in his office at Southern University, Aubert had just finished reading “The Confession of Nat Turner” when he felt the presence of Turner there in the room with him. He picked up the pen and began to write, casting the poem in the form of a prayer.