Skip to Content

For Margaret Garner (28 days free until)

By Dominique Christina

When the sun is pitiless
When the girl is a gust of get out fast
When the boys are forced to mingle with the forest
When the baby, still nursing leaves her mother
When the mother is the emphasis of fever
When massa is asleep to the heat
When the dogs bit the breasts off the last gal that ran
When the boys who brought her back think it’s funny
When the plantation is a renaissance of sizzling flesh
When hell is a white man with a gun in his hand
When hands are the language of monsters
When the missus is a frenzy of liniment
When the mother is held down in a barn
When the baby in her belly is a choir of knives
When the water of her body is unfathomably deep
When her body is rebellious land
When massa is a real-life flood
When the babies make it over the river
When they burn another man until he pops
When the women hide their eyes but know the stench
When the wind would not kiss the trees
When the dogs are lunching on wounded men
When God is a three-personed lie
When the mother climbs the air, decides to run
When the trees are Trojan horses mocking moonlight
When the trees are a funeral pyre theatre
When her feet catch every shard that ever was
When she will not dare to feel it running faster
When the baby in her belly is no nightingale
When the baby in her belly plunges down
When the high grass of Kentucky is a manger
When the mother bore the small noun soundlessly
When the wild deer knows to nibble, a wild orchestra
When tomorrow is fantastically close
When the river is a sudden hallelujah
When the mother is a deluge, blood and milk
When the mother is a consonant of mud
When the mother finds dry land, calls it Ohio
When the mother and the wild deer ghost their chains
When the next 28 days are salve and sweet bread
When the next 28 days are chamomile
When the mother fits four babies on her lap
When her arms are measureless, a sacred rope
When the 29th day will hold no mercy
When massa proves the hell he’s born to keep
When massa finds the mother with full hands
When massa is Kentucky in Ohio
When massa comes with guns and snapping dogs
His hands the rotting planks of slave ships
Left to crumbling mast-less hulls on muddy creeks,

When everything is red and fat with no
When the mother grabs her babies and a hand saw
When the mother pushes them inside a shed
When she bashes in the boys’ skulls with a shovel,
When she drags the handsaw’s teeth across the toddler’s throat
When massa stops her before she kills the newborn,
When he looks at her and sees a new conceit
When the mother’s eyes have gone out of her head
When she is no more a woman, no more no more

When Margaret Garner escaped from slavery
She sent her oldest three children ahead of her.
Gave birth to her fourth along the way.

When Margaret Garner got around the water,
       When she couldn’t hear the rattling of chains,
              When Kentucky was a trail of smoke behind her,
                      When she couldn’t read the sheet music of lynching,
                              When her babies played like they had freedom papers
                                    When 28x24 makes a promise,

When massa crossed the river thinking he knew her
      When massa stole all color from the sky,

When Margaret Garner was a carousel of heat,
When she outraced massa to a murder
When the sacrilege of getting to the crucifixion first-

Is a mother with milk-heavy useless breasts
And no wild deer left

To nibble.


The figure in this poem, Margaret Garner, and her family escaped slavery by crossing the frozen Ohio River in the winter for 1856. Under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, after a nearly a month of freedom, US Marshal's apprehended her family to return to the plantation in Maplewood, Kentucky where they had labored. In despair, Garner killed her daughter rather than see the child returned to enslavement. Toni Morrison imagines her story in the historical novel, Beloved (1987).

Added: Friday, December 4, 2015  /  From "They Are All Me" (Swimming With Elephants Press, 2015). Used with permission.
Dominique Christina

Dominique Christina. Mother. Teacher. Writer. TEDX Speaker. Licensed educator. Unapologetically large. Dominique entered the world of slam (competitive) poetry in 2011 and won the National Poetry Slam Competition that year. In 2012, Dominique won the Women of the World Poetry Slam Championship. In 2014 she won the Women of the World Poetry Slam Championship again, the only person to win that honor twice. She performed her tribute poem for Emmett Till in Washington D.C. for an inaugural event celebrating the anniversary of the March on Washington, for Emmett Till's and Trayvon Martin's families. Her work was featured on TV ONE's broadcasted show Verses and Flow. Her first full length book of poetry The Bones, The Breaking, The Balm was published by Penmanship Books in NY. Her book This is Woman's Work  appeared from Sounds True Publishing in 2015. Her work can be found in various anthologies and literary journals including Heart and Soul Magazine, The Dead Animal Handbook Anthology, Tandem, The Independent, Hysteria, and others. She is presently working on a Young Adult novel for Random House/Knopf. Learn more at Dominique Christina’s website.

Other poems by this author