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  • The State House Aflame 1833

    Fire can burn brands
    on a slave's skin
    as he changes hands
    like cattle. And chattel slavery
    in a capital city
    is as old as fire and man.
    Milledgeville's no different.
    It's twelve noon,
    and the assembly's just adjourned;
    the State House is aflame,
    and water won't reach the heights
    a slave can. Sam's a bondsman.

    The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire…

    Without a word from his master, Sam fights the flames.
    The townsfolk fearing Sam might slip and fall
    from that tremendous height
    look on with agonizing solicitude.

    As he tears flaming shingles from the steep pitch
    white folks move official records, furniture, and money
    from under that roof
    to a safer place, safer than any
    Sam and his issue yet know.

    The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire,
    We don't need no water…

    We cannot pass in silence
    over the exemplary conduct
    of a negro man named Sam,
    the slave
    of Mr. Marlow, of this place.

    And the legislature
    will reward Sam's fast action,
    heedless of his own safety, by appropriating
    $1,600 for the purchase
    of his freedom
    from John Marlow.

    The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire,
    We don't need no water, let the motherfucker burn

     

    Published in Blood Ties and Brown Liquor (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008).

    Published: 27 February 2009

    © 2009 Sean Hill and Southern Spaces