I hear the phrase and think: paper, cotton,
snow, the breath of animals in a cold field
before dawn, the crests of waves breaking onshore.
Ice on the river, floes drifting north
and south in spring.
What the judges mean is the weight of one
white voice like a hand pressing against fog
and leaving an indelible impression.
There is no witness but Mary Burton,
indenture on the line, providing
evidence against nineteen men who only speak
a language Mary can't understand.
Half an hour it takes the jury
to find them guilty in this hellish conspiracy.
Heart of bone, contract of ice,
crumb of the Eucharist—it is white
evidence that condemns them.
These six poems are from a linked collection about the 1741 New York City Slave Conspiracy. In the trials, on the testimony of a single teenaged servant girl, over a hundred slaves were burned at the stake, hung, or sold to the West Indies.