Hilaria Batista de Almeida, Provider

Marilyn Nelson on

Published in Poem Of The Day

Sisterhood of the Good Death, Bahia, Brazil
August 14, ca. 1850
Tomorrow, after we've led the procession
following Our Lady of the Good Death
back to our chapel, two hundred Sisters,
in our white eyelet headwraps and dresses
and the company of the Ancestors,
will dance a Glory samba, with our neighbors
like us redeemed, and those we work to free.
We'll dance as if we don't know aches and pains,
to celebrate the best death of all time.

No death is easy, but some deaths are good.
The free die good deaths. The people we free
will be put down with honor and music.
The best death was the one Our Lady had,
passing directly from breath to glory.
Glory is ours, too, just one death from now.
What dies lives on no longer slave, but free:
The same essence, wearing another face,
like an orixa changed into a saint.

Tomorrow is Our Lady's Assumption Day.
Today we sit in our rooms to prepare,
searching the dark silence to find glory.
My still hands, thick from cutting sugarcane...
and there it is, that flood of thanksgiving.
These nimble fingers that can tell from touch
the best tobacco leaf and when to stop
rolling a cigar smooth on the table,
this year helped free thirty Yoruba slaves!

About this poem
"The Sisterhood of the Good Death, a syncretic Catholic-Candomble order consisting of only elderly women, founded by freedwomen in Bahia in the 1820s, purchased and freed perhaps thousands of people before Brazil's slaves were emancipated in 1888. Since that time the sisters have served the poor. My book 'The Cachoeira Tales' describes a pilgrimage made to their mother-house several years ago."
- Marilyn Nelson

About Marilyn Nelson
Marilyn Nelson is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and the author of "Faster Than Light" (Louisiana State University Press, 2012) and "How I Discovered Poetry" (Dial, 2014). She lives with a cat in Connecticut.

The Academy of American Poets is a nonprofit, mission-driven organization, whose aim is to make poetry available to a wider audience. Email The Academy at poem-a-day[at]poets.org.

(c) 2015 Marilyn Nelson. Originally published by the Academy of American Poets, www.poets.org. Distributed by King Features Syndicate





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