Broadway Elegy

When you’re a slightly star struck English tourist,
Visiting NYC for the very first time
(‘It’s that Broadway Melody!’),
It’s easy to forget the Paris Situationists:
‘Underneath the paving stones, the beach!’
You might stare at the skyscrapers or the stars,
But sometimes you have to be in the gutter to know the truth.

So make a pilgrimage along Broadway
(‘It’s that Broadway Melody!’)
To number 290, NY10007,
To the African Burial Ground National Monument,
Where in a reverse echo of past city expansion
Of new plots, lots and infill on the site in 1795,
Federal construction work revealed the remains
Of over four hundred people,
Their coffins and their artefacts;
A fragment of a seven-acre burial ground,
A remnant and a revenant
Of the fifteen to twenty thousand
Slaves and free black citizens,
Interred there in the 18th century,
A shrunken fraction
Of the decorated coffins,
The beads, shells, coins and cuff links,
And invoking
And distant African shores.

Building work ceased.
Memorialisation was planned.

The monument comprises seven grave like grass mounds;
A smooth polished Ancestral Chamber
(Standing in water, a mirror to the Atlantic),
Skyscraper modernity reflected in its glassy surface,
The past symbolised by its cardinal positioning,
Eastwards to the Door of No Return
In Dakar, Senegal,
A spiritual odyssey across the Black Atlantic;

There is also a Circle of the Diaspora,
With motifs and sankofa,
Beneath the level of the paving stones,
Our footsteps moving across a maritime imagination,
The anonymity of slavery detailed in a catalogue
Of dates and descriptions, such as:
‘Burial 99 Child between six and ten years’,
Reminding us that when we walk down Broadway,
Along the ticker tape sidewalks near Wall Street,
Underneath the pavement is a cry of exile and slavery,
Perhaps another twenty thousand imprisoned souls,
Mourning for their homelands in a rainbow lexicon,
In a landscape once mapped as The Negro Burial Ground,
Alongside Palisades, Fresh Water, and The Road to Boston:
A resonant counterpoint of history
And a present day corrective
To the modish hipster graffiti on Williamsburg Bridge:
‘Anonymity is king’,
And ‘We will be ephemeral’.

‘For all those who were lost,
For all those who were stolen,
For all those who were left behind,
For all those who were not forgotten’.

When you’re slightly star struck English tourists
From Stroud and London and Bristol,
Walking through the lights on Broadway,
Put your ear to the paving stones:
Some of those cries you hear from the past –
The Broadway Elegy –
Are only there because of

Stroud Scarlet,
The Triangular trade,
The Bristol slavery ships,
And the capital of London:

Forget ‘Singing in the Rain’
And ‘It’s that Broadway Melody!’
Here, beneath your feet,
Is a Broadway Elegy:
Partly home spun.