In 2008 Arts Council England invited poets to commemorate the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act by writing a poem on the theme of enslavement.

The first of these poems is Legal Tender by Fred D'Aguiar.

Legal Tender

I wait so long
I stand so still
Swallows sit on my
Shoulders and wash
In the fonts at my neck
I carry rain
Two cups worth
In the dippers of my
I have no energy
To shoo them from me
One pecks something
From the stubble on my
Priced and purchased chin
I look old before my
Time while my time
Makes me look
Older than I should be
Both are not the same
One is a set of lines
Chiseled in my forehead
The other curlicues
My spine and spirit
Spirit is the negative
In this picture of me
What I store in the crook
Of my arms where
The natural light
Plunges into darkness
I send from my time
To yours
I want to blink
I wish to roll my shoulders
Stretch my arms
Empty my clavicles
Of what's pooled there
More than a pulse
In my neck
Less than a breath
Touch my dry eyes
With your fingers
Dipped in free rain

Old man's head
Grafted to young
Underfed body

All skin and sharp
Bones and not
Much gristle

Polished skin
Refracts light
Sinews harbor

Shadows that
Define how this
Freed slave owns

Less than his
Owner's name
How his body

Looks as if
An increase
In daylight

Might crumble its
Papyrus into
Weightless ash

So that we see
Not this man
In this light

Not a freed slave
But the heads
Of our parents

Planted on the
Round shoulders
Of our children

As ordered
I wash with soap
History's soap

Hot on my skin
Onion skin
Crackles off me

Soap wraps gun
Powder into balm
Binds sulphur

I wash off layers
Of black for what's
White underneath

Then raw red
Till I shine

Whistle hollowed
From my whitened

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