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Brian Brodeur
May 1, 2016
American Poetry Review
 
The theme of Indiana poet Brian Brodeur's poem is the loss caused by the slave trade: lost history, lost identity, and the disbelief that follows its discovery.
 
 

TALK OF THE NATION    

By Brian Brodeur

A student, Nae ma, calls in from Kalamazoo
and tells the authors of the featured book
that when she studied the triangle trade in school

she imagined a continent populated
by slaves: children literally born in cages 
where they waited for their masters to claim them.

In the green light of the dash, my wife snorts—
a sound she makes whenever she hears
a statement so absurd it might be true,

and the esteemed professor emeritus from Hull
admits Naema’s right, though only partly,
citing the countless thousands taken captive

by rival tribes (endemic ethnic warfare),
how they worked the land of their enemies
and were sold for rifles, rum, calico. 

“For real?” Naema says. She sounds so young. 
Her voice has a raspy aspect as she questions 
why Africans would enslave their own people,

but the coauthors explain her misconception:
Africans didn’t know they were African
until the Portuguese and Dutch arrived.

“Did you know that?” my wife asks, leering.
“Which part?” I say, “The stuff about the Dutch?”
“All of it,” she says, “That can’t be true.”

“Sure it’s true,” I say, though it’s new to me—
the rival tribes, the Dutch, the calico,
the way the Hull professor’s tone of stern

authority makes me sneer at my wife’s
disbelief instead of conceding my own.
The host of the show thanks his guests, his sponsors,

and, as Naema says, “Excuse me, sir?”
he cuts her off. My wife flips on the headlights.
“You must be right,” she says. The theme song plays.

Brian Brodeur is the author of the poetry collections Natural Causes (2012) and Other Latitudes (2008), as well as the chapbooks Local Fauna (2015) and So the Night Cannot Go on Without Us (2007). New poems and essays appear in American Poetry Review, Hopkins Review, Measure, The Missouri Review, River Styx, The Southern Review, Southwest Review, and The Writer's Chronicle. Brian is Assistant Professor of English at Indiana University East, where he coordinates the Veterans Writing Workshop of Richmond, Indiana. Visit him online: [http://brianbrodeur.wix.com/poetry]. 

 

 
 
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