Sugar Skulls

NaPoWriMo 2023, Day 22

Today’s prompt asked us to take an Emily Dickinson poem and reimagine it to create another one of our own. I started reading her works and could not help but hear Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd in my head. So, I fused them by taking the song’s lyrics and the words from Fame is a Bee by Dickinson. See what you think.

Fame is a Freebird.
It has a song which cannot change
Lord knows, it has a sting
Fly high freebird
It has a wing.


Earlier this year I read, for the first time, about the shameful practice of Blackbirding, the forcing of south sea islanders to leave their homelands to work on colonial plantations. Thousands died from starvation and disease, sicknesses some took back home to then infect those who stayed at behind, only for them to die, leaving not only empty islands, but histories erased.
The practice still goes on today, with men, women and children from third-world countries being lied to about work in the West, resulting in them being sold into slave labour.

I discovered the works of Jasmine Togo-Brisby, whose arrangement of sugar skulls called Bitter Sweet inspired some of this poem.

Sugar Skulls

High up in the wind-still palm leaves,
Under blue-sheet empty south sea skies,
The black-eyed blackbird sings.

It’s lonesome melody
Empties across silent islands,
Tiptoeing on cotton wool feet
along undisturbed beaches.
Strips of vacated sands
That bare no trace of footsteps.
Waves gently push tropical air
Unburdened by unrestrained laughter,
Up toward the green sloping hills
Where the only thing that remains
Among the graceful, mournful faces,
Is the wind-carried clink of chains.

Through cold stone eyes
The Moai stare out to sea.
Out across water that hides the dead coral,
Bleached white; and sins of shameful black.

Over the blistering sunset horizons,
They lay in their thousands.
Unnamed sugar skulls,
Dissolved in the profits of continental coffee
And English tea.
Torn from their homes and kith
To feed on a diet of lies,
On which they starved to death.

Vile bird, cease your singing and die.

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