I have turned our childhood into a few dozen verses;
there are places for dramatic pause,
and where memory failed,
I embellished a bit.

You’ve grown impatient with me
and my so-called poetic license;
I don’t remember that
has become your weary mantra.

I am learning to excavate the good times too.
Can’t you see where I’ve colored some words?
Inserted those tender moments?

A famous writer once said that eventually
I will tire of myself and will be compelled
to tell the I-less stories….I anxiously await that moment.
But for now, I want to tell them about our war with mama’s illness
and how at school we were maimed for being foreign.

Remember D?
When they chased us up Tioga Street
and accused us of having voodoo and
scanned our dark bodies for tribal scars
and discovered the cayenne pepper we had hidden;
to throw in their faces,
to sting them,
to make them fear us,
to be left alone,
to be African.

I have managed to poem all my pain;
tell me,
what do you do with yours?

Copyright © 2008 by Trapeta Mayson. This poem originally appeared in The American Poetry Review, November 2008. Used with permission of the author.

I started kindergarten that fall you went off to Guyana.
Granny cut off my dreadlocks. She knew how to press

and curl, ponytail, and cornrow but palm roll
locks till the roots stiffened with beeswax,

glistens like licorice, she didn’t know.
For that matter, no one in the Projects knew

what to do with hair left natural, left
unparted and wild—they were afraid to touch

that unmothered part of themselves. Each snip
made each one alive and each one dead.

And if you said goodbye, it was an honest whisper,
short and fine in your throat.

She cut my hair like a boy’s
who hadn’t been to the barber for a month,

and I sat at the cafeteria table alone for weeks.
They couldn’t make sense of me, my classmates

with their gender-proper hairstyles. I didn’t
want anything to do with franks & beans,

those pucks of grilled meat. I waited at lunchtime
for peanut butter and jelly and was hesitant to eat

bread that wasn’t our color. It was hard
not hearing your voice each morning,

throughout the day. And unwilling to correct them
when they said my name wrong, I gave into

the Sizzlean; the fried chicken crunched
between my teeth, I could’ve bitten both of your hands

for leaving me here, each finger for the gunshots that rang
the night, the footsteps running on the roof, the gravel mashed

deeper and deeper into my sleep. Flocks of butterflies
broke my skin and I was shatter where I stood,

a whole constellation of wondering if I could throw
myself to the sky, coat it with urgent wishes

you’d see that I missed you, that the barter was unfair,
that you mistook me for sheep.

from Hurrah's Nest (Visual Artists Collective, 2012) by Arisa White. Copyright © 2012 by Arisa White. Used with permission of the author.

You, selling roses out of a silver grocery cart

You, in the park, feeding the pigeons
You cheering for the bees

You with cats in your voice in the morning, feeding cats

You protecting the river   You are who I love
delivering babies, nursing the sick

You with henna on your feet and a gold star in your nose

You taking your medicine, reading the magazines

You looking into the faces of young people as they pass, smiling and saying, Alright! which, they know it, means I see you, Family. I love you. Keep on.

You dancing in the kitchen, on the sidewalk, in the subway waiting for the train because Stevie Wonder, Héctor Lavoe, La Lupe

You stirring the pot of beans, you, washing your father’s feet

You are who I love, you
reciting Darwish, then June

Feeding your heart, teaching your parents how to do The Dougie, counting to 10, reading your patients’ charts

You are who I love, changing policies, standing in line for water, stocking the food pantries, making a meal

You are who I love, writing letters, calling the senators, you who, with the seconds of your body (with your time here), arrive on buses, on trains, in cars, by foot to stand in the January streets against the cool and brutal offices, saying: YOUR CRUELTY DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME

You are who I love, you struggling to see

You struggling to love or find a question

You better than me, you kinder and so blistering with anger, you are who I love, standing in the wind, salvaging the umbrellas, graduating from school, wearing holes in your shoes

You are who I love
weeping or touching the faces of the weeping

You, Violeta Parra, grateful for the alphabet, for sound, singing toward us in the dream

You carrying your brother home
You noticing the butterflies

Sharing your water, sharing your potatoes and greens

You who did and did not survive
You who cleaned the kitchens
You who built the railroad tracks and roads
You who replanted the trees, listening to the work of squirrels and birds, you are who I love
You whose blood was taken, whose hands and lives were taken, with or without your saying
Yes, I mean to give. You are who I love.

You who the borders crossed
You whose fires
You decent with rage, so in love with the earth
You writing poems alongside children

You cactus, water, sparrow, crow      You, my elder
You are who I love,
summoning the courage, making the cobbler,

getting the blood drawn, sharing the difficult news, you always planting the marigolds, learning to walk wherever you are, learning to read wherever you are, you baking the bread, you come to me in dreams, you kissing the faces of your dead wherever you are, speaking to your children in your mother’s languages, tootsing the birds

You are who I love, behind the library desk, leaving who might kill you, crying with the love songs, polishing your shoes, lighting the candles, getting through the first day despite the whisperers sniping fail fail fail

You are who I love, you who beat and did not beat the odds, you who knows that any good thing you have is the result of someone else’s sacrifice, work, you who fights for reparations

You are who I love, you who stands at the courthouse with the sign that reads NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE

You are who I love, singing Leonard Cohen to the snow, you with glitter on your face, wearing a kilt and violet lipstick

You are who I love, sighing in your sleep

You, playing drums in the procession, you feeding the chickens and humming as you hem the skirt, you sharpening the pencil, you writing the poem about the loneliness of the astronaut

You wanting to listen, you trying to be so still

You are who I love, mothering the dogs, standing with horses

You in brightness and in darkness, throwing your head back as you laugh, kissing your hand

You carrying the berbere from the mill, and the jug of oil pressed from the olives of the trees you belong to

You studying stars, you are who I love
braiding your child’s hair

You are who I love, crossing the desert and trying to cross the desert

You are who I love, working the shifts to buy books, rice, tomatoes,

bathing your children as you listen to the lecture, heating the kitchen with the oven, up early, up late

You are who I love, learning English, learning Spanish, drawing flowers on your hand with a ballpoint pen, taking the bus home

You are who I love, speaking plainly about your pain, sucking your teeth at the airport terminal television every time the politicians say something that offends your sense of decency, of thought, which is often

You are who I love, throwing your hands up in agony or disbelief, shaking your head, arguing back, out loud or inside of yourself, holding close your incredulity which, yes, too, I love    I love

your working heart, how each of its gestures, tiny or big, stand beside my own agony, building a forest there

How “Fuck you” becomes a love song

You are who I love, carrying the signs, packing the lunches, with the rain on your face

You at the edges and shores, in the rooms of quiet, in the rooms of shouting, in the airport terminal, at the bus depot saying “No!” and each of us looking out from the gorgeous unlikelihood of our lives at all, finding ourselves here, witnesses to each other’s tenderness, which, this moment, is fury, is rage, which, this moment, is another way of saying: You are who I love   You are who I love  You and you and you are who

Copyright © 2017 by Aracelis Girmay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

(The law compels a married woman to take the nationality of her husband.)


In Time of War

Help us. Your country needs you;
   Show that you love her,
Give her your men to fight,
   Ay, even to fall;
The fair, free land of your birth,
   Set nothing above her,
Not husband nor son,
   She must come first of all.


In Time of Peace

What’s this? You’ve wed an alien,
   Yet you ask for legislation
To guard your nationality?
   We’re shocked at your demand.
A woman when she marries
   Takes her husband’s name and nation:
She should love her husband only.
   What’s a woman’s native land?

This poem is in the public domain.