for Darnella (who saw too much too young) by M. NourbeSe Philip

“I seen a man kneeling.” (Testimony by Darnella who saw, recorded and posted the murder of George Floyd.)

Our African Caribbean demotic differs while being similar to the Ebonics of African Americans. In Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, we would not use “seen” in this way but neither would we use the past tense “saw” either. We would keep the present tense even as we described the past—“I see a man kneeling” etc. (Much to unpack here.) In Jamaican patwa, however, “seen” is often used at the end of sentences to mean, “Get it? or OK? I trust that my use of “seen” in the following poem is not seen as an appropriation of African American speech. I was and am overwhelmed at the grief Darnella expressed in her testimony (sparking my own grief and the poem), and the innate and ineffable poetry of her speech—short quotations that appeared in the March 31, 2021 edition of Toronto Star. I was and am overwhelmed at her deeply instinctual, moral intelligence—“It wasn’t right. He was suffering”—that continues to escape so many, many people still deeply invested in what wasn’t and isn’t right. I was and am overwhelmed at her grasp, at such a young age, of the principle of Ubuntu—I am who I am because of who we all are,” which I believe is central to how we survived and continue to survive as a many-branched people in a world hostile to African and Black peoples. This is an homage to Darnella.

for Darnella (who saw too much too young)

“I seen a man kneeling. I seen a man terrified, scared, begging for his life. It wasn’t right. He was suffering. He was in pain I heard George Floyd saying, Please get off.’ He cried for his mother.”


i seen a man
i seen a man kneeling
i seen a man
i seen a man terrified
i seen a man
i seen a man scared
i seen a man
i seen a man begging for his life
i seen a man
i seen a man shackled
i seen a man
i seen a man in a coffle
i seen a man
i seen a man whipped and beaten
i seen a man
i seen a man fighting in the hold
i seen
i seen a woman
i seen a woman kneeling
i seen a woman
i seen a woman terrified
i seen a woman
i seen a woman scared for her child
i seen a woman
i seen a woman begging for her life
i seen a woman
i seen a woman shackled
i seen a woman
i seen a woman in a coffle
i seen a woman
i seen a woman raped
i seen a woman
i seen a woman screaming with rage in the hold
i seen a woman
i seen a woman begging for the life of her child
i seen
i seen a child
i seen a child kneeling
i seen a child
i seen a child terrified
i seen a child
i seen a child scared
i seen a child
i seen a child begging for their mumah
i seen a child
i seen a child begging for their pupah
i seen a child
i seen a child shackled
i seen a child
i seen a child in a coffle
i seen a child
i seen a child crying and comforted in the hold
i seen
i seen a man
i seen a woman
i seen a child
i seen me
’n i seen you
i ’n i be always
seen

 

________________________

This blogpost was originally published by M. NourbeSe Philip on her Facebook profile and is republished here in consultation with the author.


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