I Come From The Nigger Yard – Martin Carter (1927-1997) Guyana’s National Poet

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Martin Carter  (1927-1997) Guyana’s National Poet

I Come From The Nigger Yard

I come from the nigger yard of yesterday

leaping from the oppressors’ hate

and the scorn of myself;

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from the agony of the dark hut in the shadow

and the hurt of things;

from the long days of cruelty and the long nights of pain

down to the wide streets of to-morrow, of the next day

leaping I come, who cannot see will hear.

In the nigger yard I was naked like the newborn

naked like a stone or a star.

It was a cradle of blind days rocking in time

torn like the skin from the back of a slave.

It was an aching floor on which I crept

on my hands and my knees

searching the dust for the trace of a root

or the mark of a leaf or the shape of a flower.

It was me always walking with bare feet

meeting strange faces like those in dreams or fever

when the whole world turns upside down

and no one knows which is the sky or the land

which heart is among the torn or the wounded

which face is his among the strange and the terrible

walking about, groaning between the wind.

And there was always sad music somewhere in the land

like a bugle and a drum between the houses

voices of women singing far away

pauses of silence, then a flood of sound.

But these were things like ghosts or spirits of wind.

It was only a big world spinning outside

and men, born in agony, torn in torture, twisted and broken like a leaf,

and the uncomfortable morning, the beds of hunger stained and sordid

like the world, big and cruel, spinning outside.

Sitting sometimes in the twilight near the forest

where all the light is gone and every bird

I notice a tiny star neighbouring a leaf

a little drop of light a piece of glass

straining over heaven tiny bright

like a spark seed in the destiny of gloom.

O it was the heart like this tiny star near to the sorrows

straining against the whole world and the long twilight

spark of man’s dream conquering the night

moving in darkness and fierce

till leaves of sunset change from green to blue

and shadows grow like giants everywhere.

So I was born again stubborn and fierce

screaming in a slum.

It was a city and a coffin space for home

a river running, prisons and hospitals

men drunk and dying, judges full of scorn

priets and parsons fooling gods with words

and me, like dog tangled in rags

spotted with sores powdered with dust

screaming with hunger, angry with life and men.

It was a child born from a mother full of her blood

weaving her features bleeding her life in clots.

It was pain lasting from hours to months and to years

weaving a pattern telling a tale leaving a mark

on the face and the brow

Until there came the iron days cast in a foundry

Where men make hammers things that cannot break

and anvils heavy hard and cold like ice.

And so again I become one of the ten thousands

one of the uncountable miseries owning the land.

When the moon rose up only the whores could dance

the brazen jazz of music throbbed and groaned

filling the night air full of rhythmic questions.

It was the husk and the seed challenging fire

birth and the grave challenging life.

Until to-day in the middle of the tumult

when the land changes and the world’s all convulsed

when different voices join to say the same

and different hearts beat out in unison

where the aching floor of where I live

the shifting earth is twisting into shape

I take again my nigger life, my scorn

and fling it in the face of those who hate me.

It is me the nigger boy turning to manhood

linking my fingers, welding my flesh to freedom.

I come from the nigger yard of yesterday

leaping from the oppressors’ hate

and the scorn of myself

I come to the world with scars upon my soul

wounds on my body, fury in my hands

I turn to the histories of men and the lives of peoples.

I examine the shower of sparks the wealth of the dreams.

I am pleased with the glories and sad with the sorrows

rich with the riches, poor with the loss.

From the nigger yard of yesterday I come with my burden.

To the world of to-morrow I turn with my strength.

Martin Carter was born on June 7, 1927 in Georgetown Guyana.  He is one of Guyana’s National Poets. In 1994 he was awarded the National Order of Roraima for outstanding service to the nation. Carter was part of the struggle for Guyana’s independence and was imprisoned twice by the colonial authority. In 1953 he was imprisoned for allegedly “spreading dissension” and in 1954 for taking part in the procession of the People’s Progressive Party, which at that time was Guyana’s only mass-based party and was the leading local political force in the fight for Guyana’s independence from Great Britain. Carter was once Minister of Information and Culture in the Forbes Burnham People’s National Congress government and represented Guyana at the United Nations. He has several anthologies and his works form part of the Caribbean English Literature school curriculum. He died on December 13,1997 at the age of 70.



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