On the occasion of the reopening of the Lyric Theatre, 1940s Black dream house, Lexington, Kentucky
On the East End, we shine our
own shoes, dress our own legs,
smooth down willful hair, let all
new trouble float. Done-up.
We promenade and pass, Deweese
(DoAsYouPlease) & 3rd, where
Winkfield & Murphy once hoofed
& flew backwards, black-winged,
on horseback. Under the blazing
marquee we hand our shiny quarter
over, glide toward, then across,
our eight-point star, rose-tile light
of regeneration. In the dark theater,
the salt-cod sweat of work, now left
behind, names hurled our way all day,
now set aside, paychecks that never
match our labor folded away now.
House lights dim: Paul Robeson is
Othello. Miss Ella strikes & swings.
The Duke & Count jazz-juice the night,
royalty speaks to royalty. The Ink Spots
spill all with Sarah Vaughan, Miss Mahalia
orchestrates & moans and moonbeams,
Candy Johnson & his Peppermint Sticks
fill every inch of stage. Marian Anderson
poses her hands in alto-soprano.
Woody Strode, our Black cowboy,
wild-rides the open oat fields & range.
Our dusty eyes drink in Beah Richards,
Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne.
Intermission at the Lyric: Lights up!
Freda Jones tries on a brand-new
hat and no one is arrested. Bernard
Lewis licks his ice cream cone on every
melting side, no one is booked for
licking or loitering. Morgan and
Marvin Smith, the famous picture-
taking twins, take our picture too.
At the Lyric we pose, bright futures
we portray. At the Lyric we fall in love
with our lips: Lucinda kisses Big Tank
clear through the opening act. Julia
can’t see the show for looking at the
ocean of their mouths; open, close.
We cry at the Lyric, laugh out loud at
the Lyric. Whisper Quiet! Here comes
the principal! Miss Lucy Harth Smith
proudly takes her seat. At the Lyric,
William Wells Brown pulls out his
indelible pen to write us down. Isaac
Scott Hathaway shapes our faces in
a mustard-amber clay on new money.
We come to the Lyric to rise, rejuvenate,
see ourselves win, watch ourselves lifted
up in lights, hit the home run, be hero
champion of the world. Only to file
back out live & alive, stroll back across
the rays of the eight-point star, rose-tile
light of return, sink back into the race-
track of the East End with everything
we have now become. Sweet Lyric,
lyceum of dreams, where once we came
to rise into who Mama, not dime-store
magazines, promised us we were.
From Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry (Northwestern University Press, 2020). Copyright © 2020 by Nikky Finney. Reprinted with the permission of Northwestern University Press.
The soft harp of snowfall plucking through
my pine trees lulls me to peace, yet I still
hear the bongo of thunderstorms rapping
the rooftop of my queer childhood, dancing
to the clouds’ rage, raining away my sorrows.
Though snow melts silently into the gurgles
of my creek, my grandmother’s voice remains
frozen in my ears, still calling me a sissy, yet
praising me as her best friend. Even though
I marvel over spring’s abracadabra each time
my lilac blooms appear, I still disappear back
into the magic of summer nights on the porch,
the moon lighting up my grandfather’s stories
about his lost Cuba, his words carried away
with the smoke of his tabaco and the scent
of his jasmine tree flowering the night with
its tiny, perfumed stars. Despite the daystars
peeking behind the lavender clouds swaddling
mountain peaks in my window at sunset, I still
rise to the sun of my youth over the sea, after
a night’s sleep on a bed of sand, dreaming or
dreading who I would, or wouldn’t become.
Though I grew courageous enough to marry
a man who can only love me in his English:
darling, sweetheart, honey, I love him back
more in my Spanish whispered in his ears as
he sleeps: amorcito, tesoro, ceilo. After all
the meatloafs and apple pies we’ve baked
in our kitchen, I still sit down to the memory
of my mother’s table, savoring the loss of her
onion-smothered vaca frita and creamy flan.
No matter how tastefully my throw pillows
perfectly match my chic rugs and the stylish
art on my walls, it all falls apart sometimes,
just as I do, until I remember to be the boy
I was, always should be, playing alone with
his Legos in the family room, still enchanted
by the joy of his sheer self and his creations:
perfect or not, beautiful or not, immortal or
as mortal as the plentiful life I’ve made here,
although I keep living with my father dying
in our old house, his head cradled in my hand
for a sip of tea and a kiss on his forehead—
our last goodbye in the home that still lives
within this home where I live on to die, too.
Copyright © 2020 by Richard Blanco. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Assétou Xango performs at Cafe Cultura in Denver.
“Give your daughters difficult names.
Names that command the full use of the tongue.
My name makes you want to tell me the truth.
My name does not allow me to trust anyone
who cannot pronounce it right.”
Many of my contemporaries,
Have a name that brings the tongue to worship.
Names that feel like ritual in your mouth.
I don’t want a name said without pause,
muttered without intention.
I am through with names that leave me unmoved.
Names that leave the speaker’s mouth unscathed.
I want a name like fire,
like my hand gripping massa’s whip—
I want a name from before the ships
A name Donald Trump might choke on.
I want a name that catches you in the throat
if you say it wrong
and if you’re afraid to say it wrong,
then I guess you should be.
I want a name only the brave can say
a name that only fits right in the mouth of those who love me right,
because only the brave
can love me right
Assétou Xango is the name you take when you are tired
of burying your jewels under thick layers of
Assétou the light
Xango the pickaxe
so that people must mine your soul
just to get your attention.
If you have to ask why I changed my name,
it is already too far beyond your comprehension.
Call me callous,
but with a name like Xango
I cannot afford to tread lightly.
You go hard
or you go home
and I am centuries
and ships away
from any semblance
of a homeland.
I am a thief’s poor bookkeeping skills way from any source of ancestry.
I am blindly collecting the shattered pieces of a continent
much larger than my comprehension.
I hate explaining my name to people:
their eyes peering over my journal
looking for a history they can rewrite
Ask me what my name means...
What the fuck does your name mean Linda?
Not every word needs an English equivalent in order to have significance.
I am done folding myself up to fit your stereotype.
Your black friend.
Your African Queen Meme.
Your hurt feelings.
Your desire to learn the rhetoric of solidarity
without the practice.
I do not have time to carry your allyship.
I am trying to build a continent,
My name is the only thing I have that is unassimilated
and I’m not even sure I can call it mine.
The body is a safeless place if you do not know its name.
Assétou is what it sounds like when you are trying to bend a syllable
into a home.
With shaky shudders
And wind whistling through your empty,
I feel empty.
There is no safety in a name.
No home in a body.
A name is honestly just a name
A name is honestly just a ritual
And it still sounds like reverence.
Copyright © 2017 Assétou Xango. Used with permission of the poet. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 9, 2020.