Friday 30 September 2022
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A closer look at cotton

Carol Elizabeth Owens

Writer Carol Elizabeth Owens takes a different look at cotton in her poem “See-Thru Cotton”

The American cotton industry has promoted cotton as “the fabric of our lives” in television and radio commercials. Once in a while, the ads continue to appear. This poem asks us to take a closer look at the subject.

See-Thru Cotton

cotton is not
the fabric of our lives –

it’s the one
we came to despise
when our value
was compromised
on material plantations
of an unkind nation –
cotton did not weave
our willing participation;

and it is not
the fabric of our lives –

it didn’t dry
the tears we cried
when our elders died
before witnessing
the scene
of freedom’s dream
becoming realized;

cotton is not
the fabric of our lives –
it was just a cover,
a bare disguise, employed by some
who used to hide
under cotton’s sheets
to cover their faces –
cotton costumed
many old racists;

so let me say this:
it’s not
the fabric
of our lives

sometimes i wonder
how we survived
those peculiar days
when we were
held as slaves
to the strange
subservient ways

cotton won’t
get my praise

and it is not
the fabric of our lives;

cotton made a quilt
while massa was sleep –
patch-work codes
a pathway to creep –
the underground railroad
was discreet –

were wise to buy
and they fabricated yards…of freedom
that earned their keep

we were shepherded
by clever sheep
who crafted a homegrown
way to liberate –
oh how sweet the taste
of our evening escapes
from kernels
and colonels of cotton –
none too soon forgotten;

the human cost
of the crop
was never cheap –
but what one sows
is what one reaps –
cotton’s legacy is deep;

and no,
it is not the fabric
of our lives –
whoever said so
told soft
little white lies –

because cotton
was a hard
oppressing many
see-thru eyes

© 2003 Carol Elizabeth Owens [all rights reserved]