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.
It is a custom in some parts of Africa for travelers into the jungles to send before them in the early morning little African boys called “Dew-driers” to brush with their bodies the dew from the high grasses—and be, perchance, the first to meet the leopard’s or hyena’s challenge—and so open the road. “Human Brooms,” Dan Crawford calls them.
Brother to the firefly—
For as the firefly lights the night
So lights he the morning—
Bathed in the dank dews as he goes forth
Through heavy menace and mystery
Of half-waking tropic dawns,
Behold a little black boy, a naked black boy,
Sweeping aside with his slight frame
Night’s pregnant tears,
And making a morning path to the light
For the tropic traveler!
Bathed in the blood of battle,
Treading toward a new morning,
May not his race—its body long bared to the world’s disdain,
Its face schooled to smile for a light to come—
May not his race, even as the dew-boy leads,
Bear onward the world toward a new day-dawn
When tolerance, forgiveness,
Such as reigned in the heart of One
Whose heart was gold,
Shall shape the earth for that fresh dawning
After the dews of blood?
This poem is in the public domain.
for Michele Antoinette Pray-Griffiths
Ordinary days deliver joy easily
again & I can't take it. If I could tell you
how her eyes laughed or describe
the rage of her suffering, I must
admit that lately my memories
are sometimes like a color
warping in my blue mind.
Metal abandoned in rain.
My mother will not move.
Which is to say that
sometimes the true color of
her casket jumps from my head
like something burnt down
in the genesis of a struck flame.
Which is to say that I miss
the mind I had when I had
my mother. I own what is yet.
Which means I am already
holding my own absence
in faith. I still carry a faded slip of paper
where she once wrote a word
with a pencil & crossed it out.
From tree to tree, around her grave
I have walked, & turned back
if only to remind myself
that there are some kinds of
peace, which will not be
moved. How awful to have such
wonder. The final way wonder itself
opened beneath my mother's face
at the last moment. As if she was
a small girl kneeling in a puddle
& looking at her face for the first time,
her fingers gripping the loud,
wet rim of the universe.
Copyright © 2019 by Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 11, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Let me make the songs for the people,
Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.
Not for the clashing of sabres,
For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of men
With more abundant life.
Let me make the songs for the weary,
Amid life's fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
And careworn brows forget.
Let me sing for little children,
Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
To float o'er life's highway.
I would sing for the poor and aged,
When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
Where there shall be no night.
Our world, so worn and weary,
Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.
Music to soothe all its sorrow,
Till war and crime shall cease;
And the hearts of men grown tender
Girdle the world with peace.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
My brother was a dark-skinned boy
with a sweet tooth, a smart mouth,
and a wicked thirst. At seventeen,
when I left him for America, his voice
was staticked with approaching adulthood,
he ate everything in the house, grew
what felt like an inch a day, and wore
his favorite shirt until mom disappeared it.
Tonight I’m grateful he slaked his thirst
in another country, far from this place
where a black boy’s being calls like crosshairs
to conscienceless men with guns and conviction.
I remember my brother’s ashy knees
and legs, how many errands he ran on them
up and down roads belonging to no one
and every one. And I’m grateful
he was a boy in a country of black boys,
in the time of walks to the store
on Aunty Marge’s corner to buy contraband
sweeties and sweetdrinks with change
snuck from mom’s handbag or dad’s wallet—
how that was a black boy’s biggest transgression,
and so far from fatal it feels an un-American dream.
Tonight, I think of my brother
as a black boy’s lifeless body spins me
into something like prayer—a keening
for the boy who went down the road, then
went down fighting, then went down dead.
My brother was a boy in the time of fistfights
he couldn’t win and that couldn’t stop
him slinging his weapon tongue anyway,
was a boy who went down fighting,
and got back up wearing his black eye
like a trophy. My brother who got up,
who grew up, who got to keep growing.
Tonight I am mourning the black boys
who are not my brother and who are
my brothers. I am mourning the boys
who walk the wrong roads, which is any road
in America. Tonight I am mourning
the death warrant hate has made of their skin—
black and bursting with such ordinary
hungers and thirsts, such abundant frailty,
such constellations of possibility, our boys
who might become men if this world spared them,
if it could see them whole—boys, men, brothers—human.
Copyright © 2020 by Lauren K. Alleyne. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Copyright © 2020 by makalani bandele. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 19, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.