“He knoweth not that the dead are there.”
In yonder halls reclining
Are forms surpassing fair,
And brilliant lights are shining,
But, oh! the dead are there!
There’s music, song and dance,
There’s banishment of care,
And mirth in every glance,
But, oh! the dead are there!
The wine cup’s sparkling glow
Blends with the viands rare,
There’s revelry and show,
But still, the dead are there!
‘Neath that flow of song and mirth
Runs the current of despair,
But the simple sons of earth
Know not the dead are there!
They’ll shudder start and tremble,
They’ll weep in wild despair
When the solemn truth breaks on them,
That the dead. the dead are there!
After reading a letter from his mother, Harry T. Burn cast the deciding vote to ratify the 19th amendment of the U.S. Constitution
My parents are from countries
where mangoes grow wild and bold
and eagles cry the sky in arcs and dips.
America loved this bird too and made
it clutch olives and arrows. Some think
if an eaglet falls, the mother will swoop
down to catch it. It won’t. The eagle must fly
on its own accord by first testing the air-slide
over each pinfeather. Even in a letter of wind,
a mother holds so much power. After the pipping
of the egg, after the branching—an eagle is on
its own. Must make the choice on its own
no matter what its been taught. Some forget
that pound for pound, eagle feathers are stronger
than an airplane wing. And even one letter, one
vote can make the difference for every bright thing.
Upon their arrival in America, more than twelve million immigrants were processed through the Ellis Island Immigration Center. Those who had traveled in second or third class were immediately given a thirty-second health inspection to determine if they were fit to enter their new country. A chalk checkmark on their clothing signaled a health problem and meant a stay in the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital, where they either recovered or, if deemed incurable, were kept until they could be sent back home. Even if just one family member was sick, that person’s entire family was turned away.
Hide the awkward jolt of jawline, the fluttering eye, that wide
brazen slash of boat-burned skin. Count each breath in order
to pacify the bloodless roiling just beneath the rib, to squelch
the mushrooming boom of tumor. Give fever another name.
I open my mouth, just to moan, but instead cluttered nouns,
so unAmerican, spew from my throat and become steam
in the room. That heat ripples through the meandering queue
of souls and someone who was once my uncle grows dizzy
with not looking at me. I am asked to temporarily unbutton
the clawing children from my heavy skirt, to pull the rough
linen blouse over my head and through my thick salted hair.
A last shelter thuds hard, pools around my feet on the floor.
I traveled with a whole chattering country’s restless mass
weakening my shoulders. But I offer it as both yesterday
and muscle. I come to you America, scrubbed almost clean,
but infected with memory and the bellow of broiling spices
in a long-ago kitchen. I come with a sickness insistent upon
root in my body, a sickness that may just be a frantic twist
from one life’s air to another. I ask for nothing but a home
with windows of circled arms, for a warm that overwhelms
the tangled sounds that say my name. I ask for the beaten
woman with her torch uplifted to find me here and loose
my new face of venom and virus. I have practiced standing
unleashed and clean. I have practiced the words I know.
So I pray this new country receive me, stark naked now,
forearms chapped raw, although I am ill in underneath ways.
I know that I am freakish, wildly fragrant, curious land. I stink
of seawater and the oversea moonwash I conjured to restart
and restart my migrant heart. All I can be is here, stretched
between solace and surrender, terrified of the dusty mark
that identifies me as poison in every one of the wrong ways.
I could perish here on the edge of everything. Or the chalk
mark could be a wing on my breastbone, unleashing me
in the direction of light. Someone will help me find my clothes
and brush the salt from my hair. I am marked perfect, and
I hear the word heal in a voice I thought I brought from home.
Mudslide in Rio de Janeiro state...: in the early hours of Saturday, following two days of heavy downpour. A boulder slid down a slope and hit a group of houses in the city of Niterói. Volunteers joined rescuers in silence so that any survivors could be heard.
—BBC News, November 11, 2018
It's as if the marrow of the earth mistook us
for part of itself, our limbs its own settling
form, like we have sunk into chairs and taken as us
our tight-tucked legs, our bellies. Or known the settling
head of our daughter to sternum as an uncleaved us,
one sleeping self inside a woken self. The settling
mud around, its heave, seems simple now: is softening us
into dense dark shape, and we are settling
our gauges too: voice from volume, sediment, shadow, us
from the spaces we lived. Silence settling
who we thought we were, was us,
into this all-consuming lack. Nothing settling
a choke around the circumference of light, drawing us
in. We no longer know if our eyes are open, only settling:
(where our daughter sank her pillow—her hair—and us
somewhere too), though we're yielding there to this, settling
aphotic loss, how we once lived what we could bear: us,
her, no more. Now there is weight so true, a settling
so whole, we could die in its lightness: it exiles us
to formless terror—no blanket, no bed, but settling.
If we could remember that once a throat was us
inside a body. Only: here, or here, inside this settling,
a hint of shade, almost like memory: the sound of us.
If we could just know again our mouths. We
could part the earth with our voices, ask to be heard.
what we do not dream we cannot manufacture
Art follows ear and echo
eyesight searches the dust
and is surprised by love’s
what love sees in daily light
holds open color – ink, roar, melody and quiet
is its own steady gaze
to better endure bumps
“always more song to be sung” between the words
jars memory and its subatomic
moving at the speed of thought
in random thirsts rise
name the sensations,
to fish for breath,
combing through hair as tangled as nets, as
thick as the beat of blossoms’
a fine line between mind and senses spinning
in which her/my/their body becomes expert
without waiting for unified theory,
loving the body of one’s choice and
to live so surrounded
with fewer asterisks and
more verbs and
fewer security alerts
there eloquence before
*For Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor
I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired
No more turned cheek
No more patience for the obstruction
of black woman’s right to vote
& plant & feed her family
Equality will cost you your luxurious life
If a Black woman can’t vote
If a brown baby can’t be fed
If we all don’t have the same opportunity America promised
Ain’t no mountain boulder enough
to wan off a determined woman
Look at my hands
Each palm holds a history
of the 16 shots that chased me
harm free from a plantation shack
Look at my eyes
Both these are windows
these little lights of mine
Nothing but death can stop me
from marching out a jail cell still a free woman
Nothing but death can stop me from running for Congress
No black jack beating will stop my feet from working
& my heart from swelling
& my mouth from praying
America! you will learn freedom feels like
butter beans, potatoes & cotton seeds
picked by my sturdy hands
Victoria Gray, Anna Divine & Me
In our rightful seats on the house floor
Until my children
& my children’s children
& they babies too
can March & vote
& get back in interest
what was planted
in this blessed land
I ain’t stopping America
I ain’t stopping America
Not even death can take away from my woman’s hands
what I’ve rightfully earned
Do you know what I was, how I lived?
It is a goldfinch
one of the two
of a friend,
sees hit the window
and fall into the fern.
No one hears
the small thump but she,
the youngest, sees
the flash of gold
against the mica sky
as the limp feathered envelope
crumples into the green.
How many times
in a life will we witness
the very moment of death?
She wants a box
and a small towel
some kind of comfort
for this soft body
that barely fits
in her palm. Its head
rolling side to side,
neck broke, eyes still wet
and black as seed.
Her sister, now at her side,
wears a dress too thin
for the season,
white as the winter
only weeks away.
She wants me to help,
wants a miracle.
Whatever I say now
I know weighs more
than the late fall’s
the jeweled leaves
of the maple and elm.
I know, too,
it is the darkest days
I’ve learned to praise —
the calendar packages up time,
the days shrink and fold away
until the new season.
We clothe, burn,
then bury our dead.
I know this;
they do not.
So we cover the bird,
story its flight,
imagine his beak
They pick the song
and sing it
over and over again.