Bolinao, Philippines
I am worried about tentacles.
How you can still get stung
even if the jelly arm disconnects
from the bell. My husband
swims without me—farther
out to sea than I would like,
buoyed by salt and rind of kelp.
I am worried if I step too far
into the China Sea, my baby
will slow the beautiful kicks
he has just begun since we landed.
The quickening, they call it, 
but all I am is slow, a moon jelly
floating like a bag in the sea.
Or a whale shark. Yes—I could be
a whale shark, newly spotted
with moles from the pregnancy—
my wide mouth always open
to eat and eat with a look that says
Surprise! Did I eat that much?
When I sleep, I am a flutefish,
just lying there, swaying back
and forth among the kelpy mess
of sheets. You can see the wet
of my dark eye awake, awake. 
My husband is a pale blur 
near the horizon, full of adobo
and not waiting thirty minutes 
before swimming. He is free
and waves at me as he backstrokes
past. This is how he prepares
for fatherhood. Such tenderness
still lingers in the air: the Roman
poet Virgil gave his pet fly
the most lavish funeral, complete
with meat feast and barrels 
of oaky wine. You can never know
where or why you hear
a humming on this soft earth.

From Oceanic (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.m on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, All rights reserved.

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
     went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.


Jesús, Estrella, Esperanza, Mercy:

       Sails flashing to the wind like weapons, 
       sharks following the moans the fever and the dying;   
       horror the corposant and compass rose. 

Middle Passage: 
               voyage through death 
                               to life upon these shores. 

       “10 April 1800— 
       Blacks rebellious. Crew uneasy. Our linguist says   
       their moaning is a prayer for death, 
       ours and their own. Some try to starve themselves.   
       Lost three this morning leaped with crazy laughter   
       to the waiting sharks, sang as they went under.” 

Desire, Adventure, Tartar, Ann:

       Standing to America, bringing home   
       black gold, black ivory, black seed. 

               Deep in the festering hold thy father lies,   
               of his bones New England pews are made,   
               those are altar lights that were his eyes.

Jesus    Saviour    Pilot    Me 
Over    Life’s    Tempestuous    Sea 

We pray that Thou wilt grant, O Lord,   
safe passage to our vessels bringing   
heathen souls unto Thy chastening. 

Jesus    Saviour 

       “8 bells. I cannot sleep, for I am sick 
       with fear, but writing eases fear a little 
       since still my eyes can see these words take shape   
       upon the page & so I write, as one 
       would turn to exorcism. 4 days scudding, 
       but now the sea is calm again. Misfortune 
       follows in our wake like sharks (our grinning   
       tutelary gods). Which one of us 
       has killed an albatross? A plague among 
       our blacks—Ophthalmia: blindness—& we   
       have jettisoned the blind to no avail. 
       It spreads, the terrifying sickness spreads. 
       Its claws have scratched sight from the Capt.'s eyes   
       & there is blindness in the fo’c’sle 
       & we must sail 3 weeks before we come 
       to port.” 

               What port awaits us, Davy Jones’ 
               or home? I’ve heard of slavers drifting, drifting,   
               playthings of wind and storm and chance, their crews   
               gone blind, the jungle hatred 
               crawling up on deck.

Thou    Who    Walked    On    Galilee 

       “Deponent further sayeth The Bella J 
       left the Guinea Coast 
       with cargo of five hundred blacks and odd   
       for the barracoons of Florida: 

       “That there was hardly room ’tween-decks for half   
       the sweltering cattle stowed spoon-fashion there;   
       that some went mad of thirst and tore their flesh   
       and sucked the blood: 

       “That Crew and Captain lusted with the comeliest   
       of the savage girls kept naked in the cabins;   
       that there was one they called The Guinea Rose   
       and they cast lots and fought to lie with her: 

       “That when the Bo’s’n piped all hands, the flames   
       spreading from starboard already were beyond   
       control, the negroes howling and their chains   
       entangled with the flames: 

       “That the burning blacks could not be reached,   
       that the Crew abandoned ship, 
       leaving their shrieking negresses behind, 
       that the Captain perished drunken with the wenches: 

       “Further Deponent sayeth not.” 

Pilot    Oh    Pilot    Me 



Aye, lad, and I have seen those factories,   
Gambia, Rio Pongo, Calabar; 
have watched the artful mongos baiting traps   
of war wherein the victor and the vanquished 

Were caught as prizes for our barracoons.   
Have seen the nigger kings whose vanity 
and greed turned wild black hides of Fellatah,   
Mandingo, Ibo, Kru to gold for us. 

And there was one—King Anthracite we named him— 
fetish face beneath French parasols 
of brass and orange velvet, impudent mouth 
whose cups were carven skulls of enemies: 

He’d honor us with drum and feast and conjo   
and palm-oil-glistening wenches deft in love,   
and for tin crowns that shone with paste,   
red calico and German-silver trinkets 

Would have the drums talk war and send   
his warriors to burn the sleeping villages   
and kill the sick and old and lead the young   
in coffles to our factories. 

Twenty years a trader, twenty years, 
for there was wealth aplenty to be harvested   
from those black fields, and I’d be trading still   
but for the fevers melting down my bones. 



Shuttles in the rocking loom of history,   
the dark ships move, the dark ships move,   
their bright ironical names 
like jests of kindness on a murderer’s mouth;   
plough through thrashing glister toward   
fata morgana’s lucent melting shore,   
weave toward New World littorals that are   
mirage and myth and actual shore. 

Voyage through death, 
                               voyage whose chartings are unlove. 

A charnel stench, effluvium of living death   
spreads outward from the hold, 
where the living and the dead, the horribly dying,   
lie interlocked, lie foul with blood and excrement. 

       Deep in the festering hold thy father lies,   
       the corpse of mercy rots with him,   
       rats eat love’s rotten gelid eyes. 

       But, oh, the living look at you 
       with human eyes whose suffering accuses you,   
       whose hatred reaches through the swill of dark   
       to strike you like a leper’s claw. 

       You cannot stare that hatred down 
       or chain the fear that stalks the watches 
       and breathes on you its fetid scorching breath;   
       cannot kill the deep immortal human wish,   
       the timeless will.

               “But for the storm that flung up barriers   
               of wind and wave, The Amistad, señores, 
               would have reached the port of Príncipe in two,   
               three days at most; but for the storm we should   
               have been prepared for what befell.   
               Swift as the puma’s leap it came. There was   
               that interval of moonless calm filled only   
               with the water’s and the rigging’s usual sounds,   
               then sudden movement, blows and snarling cries   
               and they had fallen on us with machete   
               and marlinspike. It was as though the very   
               air, the night itself were striking us.   
               Exhausted by the rigors of the storm, 
               we were no match for them. Our men went down   
               before the murderous Africans. Our loyal   
               Celestino ran from below with gun   
               and lantern and I saw, before the cane- 
               knife’s wounding flash, Cinquez, 
               that surly brute who calls himself a prince,   
               directing, urging on the ghastly work. 
               He hacked the poor mulatto down, and then   
               he turned on me. The decks were slippery 
               when daylight finally came. It sickens me   
               to think of what I saw, of how these apes   
               threw overboard the butchered bodies of 
               our men, true Christians all, like so much jetsam.   
               Enough, enough. The rest is quickly told:   
               Cinquez was forced to spare the two of us   
               you see to steer the ship to Africa,   
               and we like phantoms doomed to rove the sea   
               voyaged east by day and west by night,   
               deceiving them, hoping for rescue,   
               prisoners on our own vessel, till   
               at length we drifted to the shores of this   
               your land, America, where we were freed   
               from our unspeakable misery. Now we   
               demand, good sirs, the extradition of   
               Cinquez and his accomplices to La   
               Havana. And it distresses us to know   
               there are so many here who seem inclined   
               to justify the mutiny of these blacks.   
               We find it paradoxical indeed 
               that you whose wealth, whose tree of liberty   
               are rooted in the labor of your slaves 
               should suffer the august John Quincy Adams   
               to speak with so much passion of the right   
               of chattel slaves to kill their lawful masters   
               and with his Roman rhetoric weave a hero’s   
               garland for Cinquez. I tell you that   
               we are determined to return to Cuba 
               with our slaves and there see justice done. Cinquez— 
               or let us say ‘the Prince’—Cinquez shall die.” 

       The deep immortal human wish,   
       the timeless will: 

               Cinquez its deathless primaveral image,   
               life that transfigures many lives. 

       Voyage through death 
                                     to life upon these shores.

Copyright © 1962, 1966 by Robert Hayden, from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden by Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
                    Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

This poem is in the public domain.

I’m ready for mimosas. I’m ready for your phalanges touching
dents in my lower back. I’m ready for wartimes, baby. The kind
where men stumble, drunk with moonshine & memories
that could cut glass if they had enough guts to be knives. I’m ready
to show you my most tongue-dampening salsa dance. Lets tumble
in the kitchen while Spotify shuffles tonight. Let’s drown our tragedy
in bottles cheap & silly with headache-inducing relief– let’s do this till
the next shooting; or winter; or lung-bursting disease that
raptures the world then grows feet & runs. Let’s be kids,
getting jiggy with it in the moonlight while the moon’s still visible
& the cop regime hasn’t burst through. Let’s hope when they knock
down the doors we’re already killing it with our moves.
The carcasses left behind will have the most soulful grooves.

Reprinted from Freedom House. Copyright © 2023 by KB Brookins. Used with permission of the author. All rights reserved.

In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am.

The spoon which was melted scrapes against
the bowl which was melted also.
No one else is around.

Where have they gone to, brother and sister,
mother and father? Off along the shore,
perhaps. Their clothes are still on the hangers,

their dishes piled beside the sink,
which is beside the woodstove
with its grate and sooty kettle,

every detail clear,
tin cup and rippled mirror.
The day is bright and songless,

the lake is blue, the forest watchful.
In the east a bank of cloud
rises up silently like dark bread.

I can see the swirls in the oilcloth,
I can see the flaws in the glass,
those flares where the sun hits them.

I can't see my own arms and legs
or know if this is a trap or blessing,
finding myself back here, where everything

in this house has long been over,
kettle and mirror, spoon and bowl,
including my own body,

including the body I had then,
including the body I have now
as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy,

bare child's feet on the scorched floorboards
(I can almost see)
in my burning clothes, the thin green shorts

and grubby yellow T-shirt
holding my cindery, non-existent,
radiant flesh. Incandescent.

From Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood. Copyright © 1995 by Margaret Atwood. Published in the United States by Houghton Mifflin Co., published in Canada by McClelland and Stewart, Inc. All rights reserved.

translated from the Spanish by Wendy Call and Shook
Oh god if you exist
I’ve never doubted your existence

                          —Nancy Morejón

No one knows their names
or their pleas that would open every border
in heaven and hell
To the passerby they’re just Black men
newly arrived in Barcelona
no job
no Spanish on their tongues
Maroons who walk the street
hawking trinkets
their hunger and angst put on display
before the gaze of nosy tourists
They have a God
I have a God
and I rue their bad luck
having to run every time the Mossos
chase them to jail
lumping them in with thieves and
Sometimes I go down La Gran Avenida
or down the Barceloneta or down Las
and I see all those Black men
spreading their white blankets on the ground 
as if they’ll soon return to sea
flying the sail of the promised land
the land that became a mirage
So all they have left is the drifting
dinghy of their hearts
the castaway’s jagged rocks
where each is a distressed bird
But they have a God
that they hold close
with the faith of a child
and the hope of a suicide
That’s why even in the rain
they all sing their bad luck
and none of them care about this city
that can’t pronounce their names
Because they have a God that smells of
that tastes of ether and loneliness
And they each have a white blanket
that easily opens and closes
hawking trinkets
to sustain the hungry
a sheet that can be folded and tied up
so they can run far
far away from the Mossos d’Esquadra
from xenophobia
from the blindness of God



Todos somos cimarrones

Oh dios si existes
No he dudado de tu existencia

                          —Nancy Morejón

Nadie conoce sus nombres
ni sus ruegos que abrirían todas las
del cielo y del infierno
Para los viandantes sólo son negros
recién llegados a Barcelona
sin empleo
sin español en la lengua
cimarrones que van por la calle
con su venta improvisada de baratijas
gente que extiende su hambre y su
ante la mirada de turistas y fisgones
Ellos tienen un Dios
yo tengo un Dios
y me lamento por su mala suerte
de correr cada vez que los mossos
vienen tras de ellos a encarcelarlos
a juntarlos con ladrones y homicidas
A veces voy por la Gran Avenida
o por la Barceloneta o por las Ramblas
y veo a todos aquellos hombres negros
que extienden su manta blanca sobre el piso
como si de pronto volvieran al mar
y ondearan las velas de la tierra prometida
la tierra que un día se les volvió espejismo
Entonces sólo les queda la barca
de sus corazones a la deriva
la piedra del naufragio
donde cada uno es un pájaro que gime
Pero ellos tienen un Dios
que guardan bajo su sombra
con la fe de un niño
y la esperanza de un suicida
Por eso aún bajo la lluvia
todos cantan su mala suerte
y a ninguno le importa esta ciudad
que no sabe pronunciar sus nombres
Porque ellos tienen un Dios que huele a
que sabe a éter y soledad
Y también tienen una manta blanca
que se abre y cierra fácilmente
una venta improvisada de baratijas
para sostener el hambre
una manta que se dobla y amarra
para poder correr lejos
muy lejos de los mossos d’esquadra
de la xenofobia
y de la ceguera de Dios



Mumure’ Nhtä’ Yäjktampä


Dä’ ngomi uka yijtubäre
dejurä’ mij’ jamdzäjkpatzi

                          —Nancy Morejón

Ni’is ji’ myusaya’e nyiäyiram
teserike kyonuksku’tyam aku’ajkyajpabä’jinh te’ anhtunh’tam
tzajpis’nyi’e teserike yatzipä’räjk’kisnyi’e
Wijtyi’ajpapä’koroya yäjktampä’ pänh’tamte’
jomemi’tyajupäma Barcelona’kupkuy’omo
jana’ yosyi’kuyjinh’tampä
ji’ myusyi’a’e’päis tzyi’apya’ä kastiya’ore
yäjktampä pänhtam’ makyapapä tunh’omo
ma’a’ wyjtyi’ajpapä
pänh’tam yisanh’sajyaj’papä’is yose’ teserike nyi’atzku’tyam
eyapäis wynanh’omoram
Te’is nyi.’ ijtyaju nhkyomi
äjtzi ijtkeruri äj’ nhkomi
tese’ yajk’ maya’yajpatzi tyi’oyaistam
myajk’kyaräjpa’ankä te mossos d’esquadras’tam
jujtzyi’e myta’ yanhku’kamä’yaräi
yajk’ tumya’räi numyajpapä’jinh teserike yajka’oye’jinh’tam
Wenenh’omo makatzi mujapä tunh’omo
makatzi Barceloneta makatzi Ramblas
tese’ a’myajpatzi mumu’ te’ yäjtampä pänhtam
tyi’okyajpapäis popo’pä tyi’uku’ najs’käjsi
makajse wyruya’e mäja’ meya’omo
makajse nu’kya’e syi’utya’räjpamä
te’ kupkuy’ jina’ yispäjkya’epä, nhkysa’yaräjpamä’
Jiksekanhte’ tzäpyapä tekoroya’ram
te’ tyi’umpä konuks’kuy
juwä’ mujspa’ jonh’tzyijse’ toyapäjk’kya’ä
Te’is nyiä’ ijtyaju tumä nhkyomi tanä’ompapä
kyäwä’nyi’ajpapä kyämunh’nhkämä
une’is wyanh’janhmoky’usyi’e
yajka’oye’is wyanh’janhmoky’usyi’e
Tekoroya tuj’omo
mumu’ kasäjpa watyajpa
jyampä’yajpa yä’ mäja’kupkuy
jurä ni’is ji’ nhjyajm’jayaräi nyi’oyiram
Te’istam nyiä’ ijtyi’aju nhkyomiram
sunyi’ ompapä
nyiä’ ijtyajkeruri’ tumä popo’ruku
aku’ajkpapä sunyi anhkam’papä
nyiä’ ijtyaju tumä ma’a
wäkä jana’ yos’kaya’ä
nyiä’ ijtyaju tumä popo’ruku nhtä’ pakspapä nhtä’ sinh’papä
wäkä mujsä pyoya’ä ya’yi
jene yayi ji’ nhkyäpatyi’a’emä te’ mossos d’esquadras’tam
ji’ nhkyäpatyi’a’emä te’ nhkysa’yajpapäis yäjktampä pänhtam
ji’ nhkyäpatyi’a’emä nhtä’ nhkomi’is tyi’o’tyi’ajkuyis


From How to Be a Good Savage by Mikeas Sánchez. Translated from the Zoque and Spanish by Wendy Call and Shook. Copyright © 2024 by Wendy Call and Shook. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions,

She’s smocked in blue, like peasants by Millet
at work, a crook or pail in hand, or bent,
perhaps, for sewing, nursing, sheaving hay,
their faces worn by pity and consent.

The airport crowds have atomized by now;
the loos are nearly empty. There, alone,
she traces arcs, a model showing how
it’s done—left, right, ahead—as if to hone

her gestures as a dance routine. She sings,
a thread that rises, falls, and floats.
The words are muffled. Might her voice give wings
to home thoughts, in its melancholy notes?

I speak to her in English; no reply,
no recognition. I use Spanish then;
she’s pensive, unaware. So should I try
my Creole French? But no; to speak again

would seem interrogation. Does she see
me, even, leaning as she swirls her mop?
She is the body of the melody,
its mute existence when the song must stop.

From Aerosols, Catharine Savage Brosman, Green Altar / Shotwell Publishing © 2023. Used with the permission of the author.