Heroic Sonnet Crown – Nat Turner

Unfinished sonnet crown for Nat Turner

(1 of 15) Magic Words

Ahlan wa Sahlan. Urbi et Orbi.
Magic words that unite and entice us
until the divisions and fables
corrupt our thoughts. We saw a play last night
that gave us pause. A slave revolt. Shockwaves
throughout the land. But was it a false flag?
A justification to pour terror
on top of existing shock and awe?
The truth of history will manifest
soon or late. ‘Til then we have magic words
and incantations showing us the path
to the inner sanctum, the holy ground
on which we stand. Consider this: were we
ordained for some great purpose in His Hand?


(2 of 15) Called to Serve

Ordained for some great purpose in His hand –
the subject of our study claimed the source
of his truth was the Almighty himself –
by all accounts he was a man of faith –

The sign of blood in the corn, leaves forming
hieroglyphs, unusual birthmarks all
convinced his family a special child
was born among them – a future leader –

As a child he learned to read words and signs
in nature, in the skies above, the crops
that grew in season, his place as a man
enslaved in this land of the free, the brave.

Indeed he was called to some great purpose.
The Savior laid down the yoke he had borne.


(3 of 15) Incantation

The Savior laid down the yoke he had borne
for the sins of men. Judgement day’s at hand.
Turner heard and testified under oath –
the same spirit who spoke to the prophets.

He prayed for two years. Continuously.
Then he saw white and black spirits engaged
in battle, the sun darkened, blood flowing.
Such was his luck. Such he was called to see.

The Serpent loosened, Christ laid down the yoke
for Nat to seize to fight with the Serpent.
The time was fast approaching, he heard, when
the first shall be last – the last shall be first.

Then after the February eclipse –
Slay thine enemies with their own weapons.


(4 of 15) Confession

Slay thine enemies with their own weapons.
The confessor, the defense attorney
(so he claims) wrote down these words from Turner’s
prison cell the night before his hanging.
No doubt the doubting Thomas may have stretched
the truth of Nat’s confession just a taste
to suit his unfulfilled aspirations,
to meet political requirements
of the moment, or to please his father.
We don’t really know. But what we do know
is that a band of slaves killed their masters
with weapons from the house – axes and knives –
men, women and children – a bloody mess.
Neither age nor sex would escape from death.


(5 of 15) The Deed is Done

Neither age nor sex would escape death.
In the end sixty slave owners and kin
were slaughtered under Turner’s leadership.
Hundreds of enslaved Negroes, innocent,
were killed in retribution. Laws were made
outlawing education of Negroes,
black codes restricting movement, slave or free.
Severed Negro heads were placed on fence posts
as a living reminder of the crimes.
After weeks in hiding Nat surrendered
to be tried by a jury of his peers.
News spread across the country like wildfire,
connecting Turner to other revolts.
Stories were embellished about his deeds.


(6 of 15) Walking in His Shoes

Stories were embellished about his deeds.
We grow up hearing echoes of these tales
passed down, distilled, to each generation.
For a man enslaved Maslow doesn’t speak.
unless one has an eye to read between
the lines – the process is not linear
at all – when human beings are nor free.
And yet, there is always a freedom
for the soul. This our hero understood
in a convoluted way – surviving
in a convoluted world. Let’s not judge
too severely. But let’s not leap ahead
to false conclusions. He had a just cause
against injustice weighing on his soul.


(7 of 15) The Soul’s Proportion

Against injustice weighing on his soul
he had no normal recourse. A deeper
dive into Turner’s motivations calls
us to the task. Maslow provides the key.
Survival needs. Basic necessities
were controlled, regulated, weaponized.
No slave was safe against the master’s whims.
Connection to a group – tenuous at best.
Appreciation for the slave’s labor
and his pay accrued to the master.
Self-actualization as a goal
was not possible. The ultimate stage,
self-transcendence, was not outside his reach –
but it’d require landing a heavy blow.


(8 of 15) The Scene Setting

But it’d require landing a heavy blow,
so early before emancipation’s
glow had dawned in the American soul.
Decision and execution alone
would not suffice. The final blow required
velocity and direction. An aim.
An intent. Accuracy. Precision.

Furthermore, it would have to fill the space
of white imagination, emptying
every emotion, every thought and fear
of black retaliation were the roles
reversed, owner and his chattel, master
and slave. Not just a costume and a song,
it had to be a total work of art.


(9 of 15) Event Planning

It had to be a total work of art.
A half, a third, a fourth of a movement
would not suffice. A huge splash was required
to capture Americans’ attention –
enslaved and free – to rock a boat steering
on a faulty course. He knew it would be
all or nothing, a tiny mustard seed
planted in a rocky soil – without hope
for immediate success. A symbol –
political, spiritual – for future
generations when freedom’s wind would blow
to every compass point across the land.
With no chance of victory he labored,
meticulously planning each detail.