Read my Canada Day-Inspired Poem: Lullaby for Olivier Le Jeune
Updated: Jul 6, 2020
On Canada Day, this poem came to me after I watched a television program in which Afua Cooper (former James Robinson Johnson Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University) recounted facts about the history of slavery in Canada. On the program, Cooper told the story of Olivier Le Jeune, the first recorded slave sold in Canada. He was about six or seven years old when brought here and about ten when sold in New France, present-day Quebec. His story haunts me. Hearing it, I want to hold my son in a bear hug.
In the poem, "coureur de bois" refers to an unlicensed fur trader in 17th century New France, a so called, "wood-runner."
Read below my new poem inspired by Olivier's story, "Lullaby for Olivier Le Jeune."
Lullaby for Olivier Le Jeune
I want to sing for him, sing something his mother may have sung
before she found him missing, sing to him as he lies cold on the stone
floor in New France, awake but asleep listening for his master’s movements,
alert to duty so he does not disobey.
Google, play, Motherless Child
I want to serenade this child slave, this beautiful boy brought here
bought then sold again, his owners changing like seasons, like rain becomes
snow that becomes sleet, his calling name changing.
Olivier Le Jeune, do you recall your first name that made you turn and smile?
Google, stop playing, Motherless Child
I want to rock him, wrap him in a faux fur blanket and tell him the truth
about the night terrors, tell him he will not see motherland, not hear mother tongue
slavery does no returns, offers no refunds, but he may become a coureur de bois
and see bears run free in the woods and taste fresh maple sap.
It’s sweet, Olivier.
Google, play it again. Play, Motherless Child