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.
Polly Atkin was born in Nottingham, lived in East London for seven years, and is now based in Cumbria. She is currently researching the construction of meaning around place for a PhD in English and Sociology at the University of Lancaster, under the AHRC's Landscape and Environment Scheme. Her pamphlet, 'Bone Song' is available from Spring 2008.
Seven Nights of Uncreation
On the first night I woke up deep underwater,
dry as a fish-bone in the belly of a ship,
the heavy silence below the water-line
punctured by crackings like timbers or bones
smashing to splinters on unseen rocks.
I was blind, trapped. Utterly lost.
On the second a glimmer of pinkish light
showed pillars rising from lengthening sides
to meet in the curve of the ceiling like arches.
Something within me could tell without asking
that these were the ribs of a monstrous creature,
the platform I stood on, its lung.
On the third night the taste of the dark was different;
I felt right at once I was deep underground
with the weight of the wet earth driving me down,
the metallic blood-tang of hewn rock in my mouth
and a prescient knowledge I'd never get out.
I was buried, the cave was a tomb.
By the fourth night of this I was wary of dreams,
the days between blinking, plagued by impressions
I did not recall from the nights' haunting visions,
but knew from their otherness they were the same.
I arrived just like home on a wide open plain,
but the wind spoke in alien tongues.
On the fifth night I rose to the ridge of a hill,
my eyes fixed by chance to a passage below,
where a sad slow procession wound its way north
into shadow, hung over the land like a hawk.
I felt it important to watch, but the wind
and the rain relieved me of sight.
On the six night I fell into nothing. Nothing
smothered me, crushing and crowding around,
everywhere, blankness rubbing me out
inch by inch, until I was nothing. I stuttered,
coughed when I tried to speak.
When I tried to scream I was mute.
The seventh night was a night of rest.
I crouched awake til the birds' dawn chorus,
hearing them singing to hours of darkness,
thinking I'm them; I am just like the birds,
tricked into ludicrous song by illusion,
tricked to believe in the false dawn light.
On the dawn of the eighth day I unlocked my limbs,
and stepped into a new life.