The boys cheered when your bullet hit the Major’s head,
but you yourself felt a tremendous alarm —
all those years a slave, all those years
with a white master, and now you killed a white man;
yet underneath your fear flowed
an embarrassment of exhilaration,
and this scared you more . . .
you felt the same richness of attainment
as when you kill a squirrel,
only greater and deeper
for killing this man.
You see in this new republic all men can be killed,
but will they allow you to live,
you with the musket held at your side,
fired once now unloaded?
How quickly a slave can traverse to master,
and really it all depends on who is allowed
to carry the weapon, since you see subservience
can easily become dominance . . . then murder.
Then once you understood you could be
like them, and they could become like you,
and the ills of some men could easily be the ills
of all men . . . then this became no achievement
at all, at all, with this capricious bullet.
It was never what you said,
it could never be for those you loved,
and not for mercy or forgiveness
or gentle stoke under a child’s chin . . .
they erected this stature because you killed a man;
and the world is just as strange and elusive
on this side of freedom.=-
Artist’s note: A monument, in 1882, was placed over the grave of Peter Salem, a free black man who fought at the battle of Bunker Hill. On June 17, 1775, at a crucial moment in the battle, British Major John Pitcairn attempted to rally his men with the cry, “The day is ours!” when Salem, a former slave, shot him through the head.
Peter Salem (c. 1750–August 16, 1816) was an African American from Massachusetts who served as a soldier in the American Revolutionary War. Born into slavery in Framingham, Massachusetts, he was freed by a later master, Major Lawson Buckminster, to serve in the local militia. He then enlisted in the Continental Army, serving for nearly five years during the war. Afterwards, he married and worked as a cane weaver. A monument was erected to him in the late 19th century at his grave in Framingham. Source: Wikipedia