The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you're older—and white—
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.
This is not a small voice
you hear this is a large
voice coming out of these cities.
This is the voice of LaTanya.
Kadesha. Shaniqua. This
is the voice of Antoine.
Running over waters
navigating the hallways
of our schools spilling out
on the corners of our cities and
no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths.
This is not a small love
you hear this is a large
love, a passion for kissing learning
on its face.
This is a love that crowns the feet with hands
that nourishes, conceives, feels the water sails
mends the children,
folds them inside our history where they
toast more than the flesh
where they suck the bones of the alphabet
and spit out closed vowels.
This is a love colored with iron and lace.
This is a love initialed Black Genius.
This is not a small voice
From Wounded in the House of a Friend. Copyright © 1995 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press.
“I can remember when I was a little, young girl, how my old mammy would sit out of doors in the evenings and look up at the stars and groan, and I would say, ‘Mammy, what makes you groan so?’ And she would say, ‘I am groaning to think of my poor children; they do not know where I be and I don’t know where they be. I look up at the stars and they look up at the stars!’”
I think I see her sitting bowed and black,
Stricken and seared with slavery’s mortal scars,
Reft of her children, lonely, anguished, yet
Still looking at the stars.
Symbolic mother, we thy myriad sons,
Pounding our stubborn hearts on Freedom’s bars,
Clutching our birthright, fight with faces set,
Still visioning the stars!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 24, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
translated by Tess O’Dwyer
A letter comes and visits me. Puts its legs up in the living room. Wanders
about speechless. Suddenly it explodes and another shape appears.
Welcome! Swiftly it flees, and I see two, three, four, five, seven, five
hundred letters. Suddenly I hear the word river and water runs in another
river’s space. I repeat river two, three, four, five, seven, five hundred times,
and cold imprisons twilight. Then the twin slope of this letter trembles.
There is no bottomless return. The letter is born of life. That’s where its limit
began. I discover the world beneath.
Giannina Braschi, Asalto al tiempo, 1981. Translation Tess O’Dwyer, 2020.
I pry open the files, still packed
with liquor & strange brine.
Midnight seeps from the cracks
slow pulp of arithmetic. Four or five
or six at a time, the white men draw
along the Gordonsville Road, on foot
or on horseback, clustered close—
each man counting up his hours, the knife
of each man’s tongue at the hinge
of his own mouth. For ninety-three years
& every time I slip away to read
those white men line the roadway
secreting themselves in the night air
feeding & breathing in their private
column. Why belly up to their pay stubs
scraping my teeth on the chipped flat
of each page? This dim drink only blights me
but I do it.
Copyright © 2020 by Kiki Petrosino. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 4, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
After Anne Sexton
Some ghosts are my mothers
neither angry nor kind
their hair blooming from silk kerchiefs.
Not queens, but ghosts
who hum down the hall on their curved fins
sad as seahorses.
Not all ghosts are mothers.
I’ve counted them as I walk the beach.
Some are herons wearing the moonrise like lace.
Not lonely, but ghostly.
They stalk the low tide pools, flexing
their brassy beaks, their eyes.
But that isn’t all.
Some of my ghosts are planets.
Not bright. Not young.
Spiraling deep in the dusk of my body
as saucers or moons
pleased with their belts of colored dust
& hailing no others.
Copyright © 2017 by Kiki Petrosino. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 30, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.