for my cousins, descendant of Sally Hemmings
Way before J.F.K.
Before Clinton claimed, “I Did Not Have Sex!” on tv.
Before Monica Lewinsky tripped & forgot to wash her dress.
Thomas Jefferson was banging out tots like a fiend.
Making a banquet out of Sally Hemmings’ body
he created more kids than he could track.
Jefferson kept his black children under lock & key
all while singing “Oh Say Can We See.”
All his pickaninnies, tall and skinny
looked exactly like him
and nobody blinked
nobody batted a lash
seeing these yellow children of Monticello
springing everywhere like weeds.
They heard Thomas’ cry for freedom
turn into bedroom deceits.
They watched their father,
a boll weevil, feast on fresh drawls
like a cotton gin separating seeds.
And when they realized he would never, never,
never, never, never, never, never, set them free
they read his Declaration of Independence
they waited for a harmony of coughs
they watched this ‘Apostle of the Constitution”
and willed bronchitis to drum his lungs
they sang hymns to bring on fever
yearned for heart attacks or stokes
anything to take his last breath.
But Jefferson lived & lived & lived & lived & lived & lived.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” he said.
For his yellow kids,
this was just a long-winded speech.
people lauded him a saint
people ignored his children in chains.
Only when slavery began its Swan Dance
unraveling like a hem, did Jefferson finally relent.
At last, while on his deathbed,
before he peacefully died in his sleep
Jefferson & Sally Hemmings’ kids were released.
But wait! Stop the presses!
Maybe it didn’t happen like that at all!
Maybe Sally was fed up with laundry, sex and lies.
Sick of the broken promises, maybe Sally finally snapped
like an overseer whipping a child’s back.
Maybe Sally had to go “all Monica” on them all.
She wouldn’t be the first to topple a president.
Plantation life takes its toll.
So maybe Sally took out Jefferson herself
having that one final pillow-talk at last.