“Clara’s Air,” a poem by Arletta Dawdy, Part III
Hiding in cramped attics or soured hay,
behind a secret wall,
under a bed or up a tree,
caused them often to pray.
A thin soup, a crust of bread,
an ear of corn to chew,
where came the next meal,
they seldom knew.
Drained of hope by pain and sorrow,
their next stop
caused them to burrow.
To Illinois-land they came,
Trackers’ hounds at their heels.
A house, a barn, a cellar,
Promised respite from their flight.
Thin, tired to the bone,
with blistering feet and soul,
they fell into a restless sleep.
Awakened too soon and pressed below ground,
no light by which to see,
the shifting dirt drifted down.
Clara, Old Mom-Mom and the others, too,
huddled against a sudden outcry.
when a critter ran across a foot,
fear doubled and took root.
On and on they sat in silent dream,
thinning air adding to their sleep
sending them into a well too deep.
Clara shuffled close to Mom-Mom’s ear,
“Air’s there. See the mole mice
at they’s mother’s teats?”
“Hush, child. You wants the mens to hear?”
Old Mom-Mom’s voice faded,
her lungs stretched thin.
“Y’all gots to smell the air,”
Clara wanted to scream.
Tugging and pulling,
she made Mom-Mom’s face fit the hole.
A gasp, another and then a whisper,
“I declare, child, you’s right.
Dem moles is drinkin’ they’s mama’s milk,
Sure as we kin drinks the air.”
And so the time passed,
as each had the luck
to suck of Clara’s air
until the last of the slave-seekers left.
The lid popped open from above and.
the whites declared,
“A miracle from God”
that all still lived.
But, Old Mom-Mom and the others knew,
It was Clara’s air
That saved the day
and them, too.
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