'Lancelot and Guinevere' by Herbert Draper

Sons and Daughters of Nzinga

by Ken Seide
The sons of Nzinga maneuver
in wheelchairs with hand cranks, 
as if swimming in air,
their paths interweaving
beneath Nzinga's skirts.

Nzinga the queen
traveled to the governor,
a Portuguese who stayed seated.
Seeing no place to sit,
she ordered her servant girl
to kneel on all fours.

The governor says Brazil,
a word I do not know.
I lift my head,
listen for the word in Ndongo.
Brazil, says the translator.

Nzinga rests her hand on my head,
eases it back into place.
The governor speaks of escravos.
Slaves, says the translator.

The queen and governor agree.
She will keep her queendom
and lose her people
by the thousands, the tens of thousands.

Oh, my daughters, 
you will not be buried with your mothers
or become queens 
but will toil and die 
in that place called Brazil.

Nzinga, the governor sits on you like a throne.
And I am more queen than you.

Poet's note: Nzinga ruled one or another part of what is now Angola from 1624 to 1663. She is celebrated as a nationalist forerunner for insisting on equality with the Portuguese, yet stayed in power by cooperating with the Portuguese and Dutch in the slave trade. The story is still told with admiration of turning a member of her retinue, whom I have depicted as a woman here, into a seat so that Nzinga could be the governor's equal. A huge statue of her stands in the capital of Angola. Near the statue, veterans of the civil war, which lasted three decades and ended in 2002, gather.