Sally In Paris (for Sally Hemings, 1773 – 1835)

by Evelyna Ekoko-Kay

sally walked the border with her teeth 
glowing in the evening lamps.
she was smiling and her dress was torn.
this was in france and
it is over now.

sally might have swam from england, 
for the way that history remembers her. 
her granddaddy used to ride the sea and whip her gramma’s body 
til it split and howled.
sally must have
been born with her legs spread
her lips shaking like stormbent poplar trees 
waiting for the rain.
sally is fourteen.
sally is a slut.

everyone will say he loved her.

sally must have loved the staring paris sky. 
her brother’s cooking and the speaking lessons. 
she kicked her shoes into the street to feel the earth roll 
its shoulders free. 
she practiced writing out her name until the letters felt like home and held her tight.
sally must have laughed her sleek hair into life 
and kissed her looking glass.

she must have found him on her pillow.

he recorded all her children in his farm book.
she was light-coloured and decidedly good-looking.

sally tucks the dawn into her bed to keep the fields cool in the morning. 
she washed back to virginia with the tide, 
and when it pulled away it left her breathless. 
she found her organs whimpering in a shack. 
she found a dead girl’s coughing in her stomach. 
she found she wasn’t white.

sally sent her daughters on their feet to run one day
and kept her sons to play the fiddle.
sally never wrote her nights in Monticello or 
the quiet darkling Charlottesville repose. 
it is so easy, with no writing, for history to rifle through your bones
searching for a story.

everyone will say she loved him. it is over now
because he says that it is over now because he says that it is over now because he says that
sally never had to pull the cotton til it tangled in her hair and slipped into her
stomach in its tufts and blots. her children went on errands and the neighbours
loved them and she loved them too and
it is over now.

Listen. this is not the part they like to tell where she was no longer pretty
and her hair was grey and thick 
and he didn’t want to fuck her anymore. 
when he died
she shivered out into the world
too late for paris, or for history to worry where she went.

This poem previously appeared in Pineapples Against Patriarchy.

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