West Africa, c. 15th century to 19th century
The men arrive. Slave ships are anchored.
The men arrive. The traders gather.
The men arrive. The traders march.
The men arrive. The war is waged.
The men arrive. The fire comes.
The men arrive. The people run.
The men arrive. The chase begins.
The men arrive. The dead abandoned.
The men arrive. The iron sounds.
The men arrive. The people march.
The men arrive. The sea. The sea.
The men arrive. The traders haggle.
The men arrive. The silver laughs.
The men arrive. The castle groans.
The men arrive. The door opens.
The men arrive. The water welcomes.
The men arrive. The mourning longs.
The men arrive. Our names shall scatter.
Copyright © 2020 Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. From The Age of Phillis (Wesleyan University Press, 2020). Used with permission of the author.
I gaze into her eyes—their tender light,
And strong, illumes my spirit's darkest night,
And pours rich glory on me as a star
Which brings its silver luster from afar.
Sweet thoughts and beautiful within me burn,
And heaven I see what way soe’er I turn;
In borrowed radiance of her soulful glance
All things grow tenfold lovely and entrance.
I touch her willing hand—as gentle dove
It rests within my own, in trusting love;
And yet it moves me with a power so deep,
My heart is flame, and all my pulses leap.
I breathe her name unto the flowers: they bloom
With rarer hues, and shed more rich perfume!
The skylark hears it, as he floats along,
And adds new sweetness to his morning song.
Oh magic name! deep graven on my heart,
And, as its owner, of myself a part!
It hath in all my daily thoughts a share,
And forms the burden of my nightly prayer!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 29, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
For Uncle Paul N’nem
hell nah over my dead—i paid mine. I checked
Black & subtraction knows what it did. made Black
a box to check. subtraction doesn’t know how even
a sigh seasons the roux & the second breath my mother
was always trying to catch. american. emergency.
subtraction doesn’t know Black’s many bodies & body’s
of water. though subtraction does. sunken. gifting the sea’s
new strange stones. subtraction reopened the barbershops &
bowling alleys. insists church. sent us home with inhalers &
half-assed sentences: in god - we - the people - vs - degradation
vs - a new packaged deliverance. homicide. hallelujah.
i’ll be damned. i’ll be back before i’ll be buried. i been Black
& ain’t slept since. subtraction needs my blood to water
their weapons to subtract my blood. do you see the necessity
for dreaming? or else the need to stay awake. to watch. worried.
the hand. invisible. make a peace sign. then a pistol.
Copyright © 2020 by Donte Collins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 10, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The Bud Light crystallizing in the freezer
Hides high above a child’s reach
The Uncles table sits in the backyard of my mother’s house parties
The beer and barbecue footnote their good time
I go to greet them like daughter, like niece, like good girl,
They say. Like grown woman now, they say.
At what age did uncles stop seeing me as a little girl
Since when did they dress up my growth with their pick-up lines?
Each word sharpening a knife of bedside manner
Each nervous laugh covering up the names of women who don’t stay
Oh you’re a teacher now? They repeat with bedroom eyes
Teach me, they say. To my classroom, they say, I want to come.
The pork belly on the table I used to draw on as a kid
Curls in the cold air, sausage cackling char on the grill
Flatlining my red lips I paint for myself
My voice a fire extinguisher
Against all the family men who pretend family means
Things I can get away with
A myth of fragility trapping too many girls
Forced to call mercy
Each beer sip a squeal silenced
Each man still a swine on the spit
Copyright © 2018 by Janice Lobo Sapigao. This poem originally appeared in Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Spring 2018. Used with the permission of the author.