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ETCHED IN CLAY

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 7 years, 2 months ago

7 January 2013 ETCHED IN CLAY: THE LIFE OF DAVE, ENSLAVED POTTER AND POET by Andrea Cheng, Lee & Low, January 2013, 144p., ISBN: 978-1-60060-451-5

 

"As William Faulkner once wrote, 'The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past.' We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow."
-- Barack Obama, speech, "A More Perfect Union," March 18, 2008

 

"But they're not yours, they are my own

And I am never broken"

-- Jewel, "Hands"

 

Dave, 1826

"...I unbrick the door.

Little John hands me the jars

one by one,

warm and shining

in the rising sun.

Doctor Landrum says,

'See that green?

Have you seen a color

shimmer like that?'

He holds my jar,

the big one with the lip

and glaze dripping

down the sides.

'Now, that's a jar,'

he says,

forgetting it was me

who dug the clay,

and centered the mound,

and pushed my weight

against the wheel,

forgetting it was me

who rolled the clay

for the handles

thick and solid.

See the thumbprints

on the sides?

Those are from my hands."

 

Dave was a slave. He was purchased at age seventeen for business purposes and was taught the trade of pottery -- everything from digging the clay to throwing and glazing and firing the pots he created for his white owners.

 

Dave was an artist, an extraordinary potter. And Dave, who learned to read and write, was also a poet who etched his short verses into the jars he crafted -- an extraordinarily dangerous thing for a slave to be doing, for it was against the law down there in South Carolina.

 

A number of books have now been written about Dave who, two hundred years ago, would have been twelve or so.

 

"...And if some day

this jar cracks,

my word will stay,

etched in the shards."

 

ETCHED IN CLAY is the story in verse of Dave's life in slavery (and just beyond). The book contains beautiful woodcut illustrations created by the author, and deep reddish-brown (clay colored) endpapers. It is a book that tells the very ugly story of what it was to be enslaved. Of having your wife sold away from you as if you were both livestock. Of longing and missing and one day marrying again. And then having that wife also sold away from you. Of being creative and innovative and successful, but having another reap the rewards of that creativity and innovation because somehow the white Christian folk of the day could perfect such amazing contortions of their minds and their hearts so as to see you as a depreciable business asset rather than a human being and artist.

 

And, finally, of being an old man freed from bondage. Of having the luxury – like a human, rather than the family dog – of possessing a surname:

 

David Drake, 1866

 

"Go on the road,

a one-legged old man,

like me?

No, my friend.

But I beg you,

please,

wherever you go,

look for my loved ones..."

 

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
BudNotBuddy@aol.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/

http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/people/faculty/partingtonr/partingtonr.php

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