Sometimes I dream of a slave ship docking at port
& my grandmother has brought me here. She takes my hand
(in the dream I am very young) as we watch the children
disembark. The children are lithe & descend one after
another after another—squinting, lifting their hands to shield
their eyes from the burning light of this new country.
I ask her: But will they be loved? She rubs my head &
says: The lack of it isn’t the worst thing to happen
to them. Think of all the ways what is not love comes for us,
sometimes parading itself as obligation, or the violence
we bear & soon they won’t distinguish one from the other.
The hurt itself will be a kind of attention. A boy hears
us talking & stares right back at me. He is black, blacker
than anyone I’d ever seen—iridescent, glowing with it.
I’m so moved that I dart between the guards toward him
& hold him in my arms & where I touch him, feathers
grow. The boy sprouts wings & lifts from the earth.
We are transfixed—me & grandmamma & children & the guards-
gazing upward. At first, he careens away, then back toward us
only to ascend, blacking out the sun until he climbs
high enough that he is swallowed by it altogether.
Copyright © 2015 by TJ Jarrett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 7, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
“...The straitjackets of race prejudice and discrimination do not wear only southern labels. The subtle, psychological technique of the North has approached in its ugliness and victimization of the Negro the outright terror and open brutality of the South.”
― Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can't Wait (Beacon Press, 2011)
this here the cradle of this here
nation—everywhere you look, roots run right
back south. every vein filled with red dirt, blood,
cotton. we the dirty word you spit out your
mouth. mason dixon is an imagined line—you
can theorize it, or wish it real, but it’s the same
old ghost—see-through, benign. all y’all from
alabama; we the wheel turning cotton to make
the nation move. we the scapegoat in a land built
from death. no longitude or latitude disproves
the truth of founding fathers’ sacred oath:
we hold these truths like dark snuff in our jaw,
Black oppression’s not happenstance; it’s law.
Copyright © 2020 by Ashley M. Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.