I’ve been live-tweeting from the chapbook Burden of Solace Teneice Durrant Delgado, published by Červená Barva Press. This small but emotionally explosive connection explores the story of the “trade” that brought Irish citizens to the sugar fields of Barbados as slaves. In her author’s note, Delgado explains:
I have strived to make this chapbook as historically accurate as possible. There is not much information on the Irish Slave trade, but I found Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl by Kate McCafferty and To Hell, or Barbados: the ethnic cleansing of Ireland by Sean O’Callaghan to be particularly insightful. I’m also grateful to Dr. Natalie Zacek for meeting with me after a random email and an even more random trip to Manchester, U.K.
In this short sequence, only 10 poems, Delgado has compressed a general history unknown to most into a single wrenching narrative of a young Irish woman whose name we never know. The story is told entirely in first person, but the timbre of the voice changes throughout, from the rushing long sentences of the opening poem’s history lesson, spoken in a bitter but distant voice, through the violent intimacy of her description of the deliverance of her still-born child:
…From my womb, small
and dark, my boy refused to cry, or take even one breath
of plantation air. For that, I said, Aimean, forbidden.
The word “forbidden” echos through these poems, as a liturgy, as the rosary beads (forbidden) that another enslaved woman tried to pray when her child was taken away: “I watched / her work bent fingers worry over imaginary / rosaries for three long days.” What was most forbidden, for both the enslaved Irish and the enslaved Africans, was simple human dignity, and this Delgado has explored and restored with compassion, strength, and clarity.
Here’s the sequence’s opening poem, my favorite in the collection, for how the rhythms of the lines are the rocking of the ship that will carry these girls away to a horror they have not yet been able to imagine:
-the name of an English ship that trafficked in Irish slaves
Tired of the triangle-
Bristol, Ghana, Virginia-
eager for more profit,
Crown captains played pied
piper, filled your belly in
Galway instead, traded black flesh
for white, work horses for breeding
mares. The shipmaster
forbid African eyes
from looking at the ocean,
knowing how deep water
can be mistaken for
home, but Irish were allowed
to pace the deck, Catholic
sins stronger than any
Susan, could you tell
the difference between forbidden
lamentations mouthing through
your chambers, between black
and white flesh rotting
in your bowels? Your battered
masts only sketch
a story: water, hell, the
consequences of empire.