What an absolute privilege…


… an honour, blessing, and  a straight up bligh of the greatest degree. To perform on the Queen Elizabeth Hall stage with Baab Maal, to have him compose music to your poetry, to sing on the same stage and have him say in his alert, bright voice, “Yes you. Very good, you are very good. You have much sincerity”… I am still reeling.  Speechless. In the light of that performance, I shall be recording with Baaba, Lemn Sissay, Inua Ellams and TJ Dema this Sunday 29th July recreating the whole  QEH event at a private studio session with friends. It couldn’t get any better(…or maybe it could!)

OK groupie attack over (just about), the reality is that I have been listening to Baaba’s music and following his story of Blood Line Royalty to Musical Royalty since the early 90’s and I would never have thought that Poetry could bring me to this place.

Lemn Sissay invited myself and many other prestigious international poets as part of the Olympic Poetry Parnasuss to write to the theme of the  journey of the African  diaspora. Word Sound Power was the title of the event and I  opted to write a poem based on the legacy of Harriett Tubman – inspired by her will, fuelled by my awe at the kind of emotions someone running from brutal subjugation and the likelihood of death of themselves and any family members with them might feel. Also with 27,000,000 people enmeshed in some sort of slavery in 2012, eg. indentured slavery, human traffiking and child labour, I wanted to capture the desperation, the pure instinct of surival and the driven hope for freedom in this piece, North Side Of The Trees.

Harriett Tubbman, an escaped slave who risked her life to return to the South numerous times to bring African slaves from the pro slavery inflamed South to the ‘free North’. Try to imagine Their fear and their hope at the same time

“Moss grows thicker on the north side,” so Harriet was told by her father, Ben Ross. This little piece of advice helped the conductor of the ‘Underground Railroad’ who, in her own words, “never lost a passenger.” She could taste freedom and led 319 persons to theirs, through forested terrain, over the Mason Dixon, into New York. Some kept going into Canada.

Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change   the world.  – Harriet Tubman

Written by Zena Edwards©

Once upon a time
A very real time, a time incomprehensible to now
A time when 4/5ths totaled less than human
When men were workhorses and women for stock-breeding
a time when the Word of a black book was beaten
Into layers of black skin: a black sin
To a time when trading in flesh was gravaliscious*
And humanity, bereft, was left wanting

People of a melinated skin would be running
Running north to a haven
built with smouldering bricks of freedom
On the toes of their feet
They fled
From the south to the north
They fled
Blood beating in their chests, they fled
Fear stoking their breath, they fled

And if the night was not merciful and the clouds hid the moon
If the stars turned their faces, if the night was still born
Those runners, those Freedom Seekers,
Would feel the lash of the trees saps as they ran
Their feet crack twig: snap!
They’d reach out their hands into the black
of “I will, I must, I can.”
They’d feel
For the mercy of the trees
Where the moss grew
On the north side
The north side of the trees

To the North, to the North
To the Freedom of Days
They’d reach out to
The north side of the trees.

History played a nefarious game
Chattel slavery was cheat
Harriet Tubman did greet Mother Nature’s brief; blatant and discreet.
“Look up for Polaris’s** crown
If diabolic mists persist
Then reach out without fear
For the north side of the trees.
Remember the DNA of freedom
Feel the pores of your skin breathe
Feel the bark’s velvet coat, drink the nestled dew
Rescue your parched, hungry throat
Extend blind hands, grasp the unknown tune
Of Spirituals made from the moss that grew
On the north side

To the North, to the North
To the Freedom of Days
Just reach out to
The north side of the trees.”

The hem of Black Moses’**** dress was enflamed with resolve –
Once Slave bought, sold
“She is Voodoo Queen enraged with an evil eye, mystic powers untold
She is myth, phantom, duppy, an Ancient of Old!”
They spoke in low whispers of the Underground Railroad.
But She freed minds and bodies obeyed
Ashe! The Grace of Our Mother
For the mercy of the forests double-edged embrace, Ashe!

5 centuries on and to what do we cling
When to suffer is to know the drought of compassion
When 27,000,000 still feel slavery’s sting
Profit over people –  “Let Freedom Ring”
Drink the sweet water from the Drinking Gourd***
Of the North Star within.

Click for Sculptors blog 

Hope is the soft moss that grows thick, beyond sight
The heart has eyes to capture the night
Her example is intact: Harriet! Agent of Hope, reached into black
Of “I will. I must. I can”
Free your mind and the body will obey
Ashe, Ashe! The Grace of Our Mother, Ashe!

And if the night is not merciful and the clouds hide the moon
And the stars turn their faces, as if the night is still born
Firm on your feet
You must stand
Face to the dawn
You can
Blood beating in your chest
Faith stoking your breath
Feel for the north side of the trees
Where the moss grows
On the north side
To the North, to the North
To the freedom of days
Reach out for the north side of the trees. Ashe!

“I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything. The sun came up like gold through the trees, and I felt like I was in heaven.” – Harriet Tubman

*gravaliscious – greedy
**Polaris – The North Star
*** Drinking Gourd is a constellation of stars located pointed to the North Star
****Black Moses’ – A name of honour given to Harriet Tubman


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