He looks like one of those old men whose lives have become etched in the fissures of his face, a landscape like the desert from 10,000 feet, canyons and craters of grief and smiles.

He looks like one of those old men whose skin lives the serenity of a lake on the most still, humid day – smooth, placid.

Group of Black men listening to a speaker during an outdoor STFU meetingphoto © 2010 Kheel Center | more info (via: Wylio)

He looks -to my mind – like both of these. When I picture him, for I do not have the privilege of an actual picture, he sometimes carries life in his flesh and sometimes sluffs it off to stand pure and unharmed. His face is like that image of the woman who is, when you slant your eyes one way, wizened and aged but who is, with a bit of a refocus, a young woman in a feathered cap, fresh and new.

This is Primus Randall, foreman of this plantation.

Perhaps I see his face as two because he was two himself. A slave, a man tied to this place without any choice. A foreman, a man who oversaw the work of other slaves. A man perceived to have two allegiances – to his people and to his master. A man between.

Last night, as I sat with Primus in the darkness of this place that was his home, I wrote this:

You do what you are asked. You report who is sick and who doesn’t work. You tell the General who drinks at night and who beats his wife. He thinks you do this for him. You do it for them, to save them from what is worse – to be sold away from their mothers and children, to be whipped by the overseer who won’t, even as you try, look you in the eye.

A man of one, complex face – the weathered skin laying over a spirit smooth as marble and pure as spring water. This is how I see him. This is how I want him to be seen.