Claude McKay's Early Poetry (1911-1922): A Digital Collection

Strokes of the Tamarind Switch

I DARED not look at him,
My eyes with tears were dim,
   My spirit filled with hate
      Of man's depravity,
   I hurried through the gate.

I went but I returned,
While in my bosom burned
   The monstrous wrong that we
      Oft bring upon ourselves,
   And yet we cannot see.

Poor little erring wretch!
The cutting tamarind switch
   Had left its bloody mark,
      And on his legs were streaks
   That looked like boiling bark

I spoke to him the while:
At first he tried to smile,
   But the long pent-up tears
      Came gushing-in a flood;
   He was but of tender years.

With eyes bloodshot and red,
He told me of a father dead
   And lads like himself rude,
      Who goaded him to wrong:
   He for the future promised to be good.

The mother yesterday
Said she was sending him away,
   Away across the seas:
      She told of futile prayers
   Said on her wearied knees.

I wished the lad good-bye,
And left him with a sigh:
   Again I heard him talk --
      His limbs, he said, were sore.
   He could not walk.

I 'member when a smaller boy,
A mother's pride, a mother's. joy,
   I too was very rude:
      They beat me too, though not the same,
   And has it done me good?

NOTE BY THE AUTHOR.-This was a lad of fifteen. No doubt he deserved the flogging administered by order of the Court: still, I could not bear to see him -- my own flesh -- stretched out over the bench, so I went away to the Post Office near by. When I returned, all was over. I saw his naked bleeding form, and through the terrible ordeal -- so they told me -- he never cried. But when I spoke to him he broke down, told me between his bursts of tears how he had been led astray by bad companions, and that his mother intended sending him over-sea. He could scarcely walk, so I gave him tickets for the tram. He had a trustful face. A few minutes after, my bitterness of spirit at the miserable necessity of such punishment came forth in song, which I leave rugged and unpolished as I wrote it at the moment. 

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