THE QUEENS OF SPADE
(In October 1, 1878, four former slave women on St. Croix,
Virgin Islands, led an insurrection against the Danish government
for improved working and living conditions. This revolt is known today
as the “Fire Burn.”)
Slave MASTERS blinded bats calculated pittance in sugar mills
Flowing sweat dripped in a place where SUGARCANE turned
molasses STORIED like sprits in the SOULS of Queen Mary,
Queen Agnes, Queen Matilda, and Queen Salomon
fermenting better TASTE
PROTESTERS’ breath became the wind
Tears METAMOROHOSED into pouring lamp oil
They set the fire as time forgot the MOONLIGHT,
then burst into FLAMES
They traveled the long DIRT road, stopped at the ROOTS of
aged mahogany trees, and exhaled
Songs of redemption ECHOED
plotting to beat DRUMS and BLOW the conch shell—
the carrion call: “Clear de Road!”
Tired feet trampled dusty pathways like MAD elephants
Hands clasped STICKS of sugar cane and swinging MACHETES
Eyes filled with determination—
patience of sympathetic CRUMBS
to feed merciful children
They were exhausted from the FUMES of hardship
The battle strengthened by MANGROVES Trees
They accepted the consequences of the SMOKE.
“The Queens of Spade” is a powerful poem that recounts the historical event of the “Fire Bun” insurrection in October 1,1878 on St. Croix, Virgin Islands, led by four courageous women: Queen Mary, Queen Agnes, Queen Matilda, and Queen Salomon. The poem captures the historical context and the bravery of these women.
Historical Context: The poem begins by alluding to the brutal conditions of slavery on St. Croix, where slave masters exploited enslaved people in sugar mills. The mention of “pittance in sugar mills” highlights the dehumanizing nature of their labor. Slavery was a deeply entrenched institution in the region under Danish rule during this time, and enslaved individuals faced severe oppression and cruelty.
Symbolism of Sugarcane: The poem uses sugarcane as a symbol of the suffering and resilience of the enslaved. It describes sugarcane as “molasses STORIED like sprits in the SOULS of Queen Mary, Queen Agnes, Queen Matilda, and Queen Salomon.” This imagery suggests that the experiences of the enslaved were deeply ingrained in their very beings and served as a source of strength.
The “Fire Bun” Revolt: The poem narrates the events of the “Fire Bun” revolt, during which a sizable portion of Frederiksted was destroyed by fire. The revolt was a protest against the harsh working and living conditions imposed by the Danish government. The enslaved people, led by the four courageous women, decided to take action to improve their lives.
Metaphorical Language: The poem uses metaphorical language to convey the determination and resilience of the rebels. Phrases like “Tears METAMOROHOSED into pouring lamp oil” and “burst into FLAMES” evoke the idea that their tears and suffering fueled their resolve to bring about change. The fire becomes a symbol of their resistance and determination.
Resistance and Liberation: The poem emphasizes the rebels’ desire for liberation and improved conditions. They are described as carrying “STICKS of sugar cane and swinging MACHETES” and having “Eyes filled with determination—to LIBERATE—.” This portrays their courage in the face of great adversity and their commitment to securing a better future.
The Role of Nature: The poem mentions the significance of natural elements like mahogany trees and mangrove trees. These trees symbolize the strength and support the rebels found in nature as they planned and carried out their revolt. Nature becomes a source of inspiration and resilience for the oppressed.
Acceptance of Consequences: The poem concludes with the rebels accepting the consequences of their actions, represented by the “SMOKE.” This implies that they were willing to face the potential reprisals and hardships that might come from their rebellion, underscoring their unwavering commitment to their cause.
*Winston Nugent grew up on St. Croix. He has been honored by the International Society of Poets. Blue Rain, Negus, On Our Island, and Walking in the Footsteps of My Ancestors are among his poetry chapbooks. The following short stories have been published by the University of the Virgin Islands (Caribbean Writers): Two Birds with One Stone, Many Rivers to Cross, and Still Water Runs Deep. He received the Caribbean Writers’ Marguerite Cobb McKay Prize and the Daily News Prize for his story The Rim.
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