In Dionne Brand’s Verso 55, the Canadian poet imagines an exchange between the souls of those held captive in the cells of Ghana’s Door of No Return and a group of Black travelers visiting the site.
As the visitors enter to pay their respects and offer thanks, the ancestors awaken and express their astonishment:
“…they felt happy for us, we were still alive.
Yes, we are still alive we said.
And we had returned to thank them.
You are still alive, they said.
Yes we are still alive.
They looked at us like violet; like violet teas they drank us.
We said here we are.
They said, you are still alive.
We said, yes, yes we are still alive.
How lemon, they said, how blue like fortune.”
I think of this verse often. I imagine a similar reaction from those we’ve lost to police murder and the prison industrial complex. Those who’ve spent their final moments in handcuffs and chokeholds and with knees on their necks. Those who were taken while playing video games and sleeping in bed and eating ice cream and playing in parks and carrying sandwiches.
We’ll continue to say their names and tell their stories so that hundreds of years from now when our offspring return to the places their lives were stolen, they might be beheld with the same astonishment:
You are still alive?
Yes. We are still alive, here we are.
You are still alive.
Yes, yes. We are still alive.