acrostic golden shovel

America is loving me to death, loving me to death slowly, and I
Mainly try not to be disappeared here, knowing she won’t pledge
Even tolerance in return. Dear God, I can’t offer allegiance.
Right now, 400 years ago, far into the future―it’s difficult to
Ignore or forgive how despised I am and have been in the
Centuries I’ve been here—despised in the design of the flag
And in the fealty it demands (lest I be made an example of).
In America there’s one winning story—no adaptations. The
Story imagines a noble, grand progress where we’re all united.
Like truths are as self-evident as the Declaration states.
Or like they would be if not for detractors like me, the ranks of
Vagabonds existing to point out what’s rotten in America,
Insisting her gains come at a cost, reminding her who pays, and
Negating wild notions of exceptionalism—adding ugly facts to
God’s-favorite-nation mythology. Look, victors get spoils; I know the
Memories of the vanquished fade away. I hear the enduring republic,
Erect and proud, asking through ravenous teeth Who do you riot for?
Tamir? Sandra? Medgar? George? Breonna? Elijah? Philando? Eric? Which
One? Like it can’t be all of them. Like it can’t be the entirety of it:
Destroyed brown bodies, dismantled homes, so demolition stands
Even as my fidelity falls, as it must. She erases my reason too, allows one
Answer to her only loyalty test: yes or no, Michael, do you love this nation?
Then hates me for saying I can’t, for not burying myself under
Her fables where we’re one, indivisible, free, just, under God, her God.

 

Copyright © 2020 by Michael Kleber-Diggs. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

America mourns for the Indian
figure who knelt like a supplicant before dairy,
fatly blessed our milks, our cheeses,

anointed our lands & shores.
The Google tutorials surface—
the “boob trick:” score the box & fold to make

a window for her knees to jut through.
O our butter maiden
brought all the boys to the yard.

Twittersphere so prostrate with grief
petitions are launched for the Dairy Princess:
O our pat O Americana,

O our dab O Disneyesque,
O our dollop O Heritage.
The mourning procession bears witness:

Jolly Green Giant & Chicken of the Sea Mermaid,
Uncle Ben & Aunt Jemimah,
magically delicious leprechaun & Peter Pan—

even the Argo Cornstarch Maiden & Mazola
Margarine “you call it corn, we call it maize”
spokesIndian raise stalks in solidarity.

Mia, aptly named, our butter girl mascot,
the only Indian woman gone missing
that anyone notices, anyone cares about.

Copyright © 2020 by Tiffany Midge. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 24, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Ask me about the time
my brother ran towards the sun
arms outstretched. His shadow chased him
from corner store to church
where he offered himself in pieces.

Ask me about the time
my brother disappeared. At 16,
tossed his heartstrings over telephone wire,
dangling for all the rez dogs to feed on.
Bit by bit. The world took chunks of
my brother’s flesh.

Ask me about the first time
we drowned in history. 8 years old
during communion we ate the body of Christ
with palms wide open, not expecting wine to be
poured into our mouths. The bitterness
buried itself in my tongue and my brother
never quite lost his thirst for blood or vanishing
for more days than a shadow could hold.

Ask me if I’ve ever had to use
bottle caps as breadcrumbs to help
my brother find his way back home.
He never could tell the taste between
a scar and its wounding, an angel or demon.

Ask me if I can still hear his
exhaled prayers: I am still waiting to be found.
To be found, tell me why there is nothing
more holy than becoming a ghost.

Copyright © 2020 by Tanaya Winder. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Gizaagi’in apii zaagi’idizoyan
I love you when you love yourself

gaye gaawiin zaagi’idizosiiyan
and when you do not

apii zaagijiba’iweyang
when we escape together

gaye zaagijinizhikawangwaa
and when we chase together

wiindigoog wiindamoonangwaa
the demons who tell us

gaawiin zaagiginzinog ozaagiing
nothing sprouts at the inlet

aanawi gikendamang jiigi-zaaga’igan
when we know at the edge of the lake

gii-zaagida’aawangweyang ingoding
where ashes were poured

zaagaakominagaanzh zaagaagoneg
the bearberry stands in the snow

zaagidikwanaaging ezhi-nisidotamang
branches reaching and tracing

zaagijiwebinamang gaye ishkonamang
what we have tossed and what we have saved

ezhi-naagadawaabandamang
as we examine

gizaagi’in, gizaagi miidash ozaagi’aan.
love.

Copyright © 2020 by Margaret Noodin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 2, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I.

Suffrage:

In late middle English

intercessory prayers,

a series of petitions.

Not the right—but the hope.

 

Universal:

applicable to all cases

except those marginalized

and unnamed.

A belief, but not a fact.

 

II.

In the trombone slide of history

I hear the suffer in suffragette

the uni uni uni in universal

each excluded ikwe: women

from five hundred tribal nations

mindimooyenh or matriarchs

of ancient flourishing cultures

still disenfranchised by race,

still holding our world together

in the dusky and lawless violence

manifest in colonial america.

 

Twenty-six million american women

at last granted the right to vote.

Oh, marginal notes in the sweet anthem

of equality, Indigenous non-citizens

turn to the older congress of the sun

seek in the assembled stories of sky

a steady enlightenment—natural laws

(the mathematics of bending trees,

sistering of nutrients—maizebeanssquash,

or wintering wisdom of animal relatives)

each seasonal chorus colored with resilience—

earth voices rising in sacred dream songs.

 

Even now listen, put on the moon-scored

shell of turtle, wear this ancient armour

of belonging. In the spiral of survivance

again harvest the amber sap of trees

follow the scattered path of manoomin

the wild and good seed that grows on water.

Oh water, oh rice, oh women of birch dreams

and baskets, gather. Here reap and reseed

raise brown hands trembling holy with endurance.

Now bead land knowledge into muklaks

sign with the treaty X of exclusion.

Kiss with fingers and lips the inherited

woodland flutes and breathy cedar songs.

Say yea, eya, and yes. Here and here cast

your tended nets—oh suffered and sweetly mended

nets of abundance. This year and each to follow

choose, not by paper but by pathway, a legacy:

woman’s work—our ageless ballad of continuance.

Copyright © 2020 Kimberly Blaeser. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.

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.

I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired 

           She meant
                      No more turned cheek
                      No more patience for the obstruction
                      of black woman’s right to vote
                      & plant & feed her family

           She meant
                      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

           She meant
                      Ain’t no mountain boulder enough
                      to wan off a determined woman

           She meant
                      Here
           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

           She meant
                      Nothing but death can stop me
                      from marching out a jail cell still a free woman

           She meant
                      Nothing but death can stop me from running for Congress

           She meant
                      No black jack beating will stop my feet from working
                      & my heart from swelling
                      & my mouth from praying

           She meant
                      America! you will learn freedom feels like
                      butter beans, potatoes & cotton seeds
                      picked by my sturdy hands

           She meant

           Look
           Victoria Gray, Anna Divine & Me
           In our rightful seats on the house floor

           She meant  
                      Until my children
                      & my children’s children
                      & they babies too
                      can March & vote
                      & get back in interest
                      what was planted
                      in this blessed land

           She meant
                      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

Copyright © 2019 by Mahogany Browne. Originally featured in Vibe. Used with permission of the author. 

This is not a small voice
you hear               this is a large
voice coming out of these cities.
This is the voice of LaTanya.
Kadesha. Shaniqua. This
is the voice of Antoine.
Darryl. Shaquille.
Running over waters
navigating the hallways
of our schools spilling out
on the corners of our cities and
no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths.

This is not a small love
you hear               this is a large
love, a passion for kissing learning
on its face.
This is a love that crowns the feet with hands
that nourishes, conceives, feels the water sails
mends the children,
folds them inside our history where they
toast more than the flesh
where they suck the bones of the alphabet
and spit out closed vowels.
This is a love colored with iron and lace.
This is a love initialed Black Genius.

This is not a small voice
you hear.

From Wounded in the House of a Friend. Copyright © 1995 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press.

dear reader, with our heels digging into the good 
mud at a swamp’s edge, you might tell me something 
about the dandelion & how it is not a flower itself 
but a plant made up of several small flowers at its crown 
& lord knows I have been called by what I look like 
more than I have been called by what I actually am & 
I wish to return the favor for the purpose of this 
exercise. which, too, is an attempt at fashioning 
something pretty out of seeds refusing to make anything 
worthwhile of their burial. size me up & skip whatever semantics arrive 
to the tongue first. say: that boy he look like a hollowed-out grandfather 
clock. he look like a million-dollar god with a two-cent 
heaven. like all it takes is one kiss & before morning, 
you could scatter his whole mind across a field.

Copyright © 2018 by Hanif Abdurraqib. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Winter, the empty air, outside
cold shaking its rigid tongue
announcing itself like something stone,
spit out, which is still a story
and a voice to be embraced.
Januaried movements but I hear a tune
carries me home to Lansing.

Always waiting for signs of thaw,
dark nomads getting covered by snow,
our parents would group in the long night—
tune frequencies to the Black stations
blasting out of Memphis, Nashville,
still playing what was played down south—
Ray Charles, Charles Brown, Ruth Brown, Muddy and Wolf.

The tribal families driven north
to neighborhoods stacked like boxes—
to work the auto plants was progress,
to pour steel would buy a car
to drive hope further on down the road.
How could you touch, hear
or be alive; how could anybody

wearing our habits, quiet Protestant
heads aimed up to some future?
This was our rule following—
buy at J.C. Penney and Woolworth’s,
work at Diamond Reo, Oldsmobile, Fisher Body.
On Fridays drink, dance, and try to forget
the perverse comfort of huddling in

what was done to survive (the buffering,
the forgetting). How could we not
“turn the head/pretend not to see?”
This is what we saw: hope screwed
to steel flesh, this was machine city
and the wind through it—neutral
to an extent, private, and above all

perfectly European language
in which we could not touch, hear
or be alive. How could anybody
be singing “Fingertips?” Little Stevie
Wonder on my crystal, 1963.
Blind boy comes to go to school,
the air waves politely segregated
*
If this were just a poem
there would be a timelessness—

the punchclock Midwest would go on
ticking, the intervals between ticks
metaphor for the gap in our lives
and in that language which would not
carry itself beyond indifferent

consequences. The beauty of the word,
though, is the difference between language
and the telling made through use.
Dance Motown on his lip, he lays
these radio tracks across the synapse
of snow. The crystals show
a future happening with you in it.

From Across the Mutual Landscape (Graywolf Press, 1984). Copyright © 1984 by Christopher Gilbert. Used with permission of The Permissions Company inc. on behalf of Graywolf Press.

the poem begins not where the knife enters
but where the blade twists.
Some wounds cannot be hushed
no matter the way one writes of blood
& what reflection arrives in its pooling.
The poem begins with pain as a mirror
inside of which I adjust a tie the way my father taught me
before my first funeral & so the poem begins
with old grief again at my neck. On the radio,
a singer born in a place where children watch the sky
for bombs is trying to sell me on love
as something akin to war.
I have no lie to offer as treacherous as this one.
I was most like the bullet when I viewed the body as a door.
I’m past that now. No one will bury their kin
when desire becomes a fugitive
between us. There will be no folded flag
at the doorstep. A person only gets to be called a widow once,
and then they are simply lonely. The bluest period.
Gratitude, not for love itself, but for the way it can end
without a house on fire.
This is how I plan to leave next.
Unceremonious as birth in a country overrun
by the ungrateful living. The poem begins with a chain
of well-meaning liars walking one by one
off the earth’s edge. That’s who died
and made me king. Who died and made you.

Copyright © 2019 by Hanif Abdurraqib. From A Fortune For Your Disaster (Tin House Books, 2019). Used with permission of the author and Tin House Books. 

(Jean Toomer)
 
I did not wish to “rise above”
or “move beyond” my race. I wished
 
to contemplate who I was beyond
my body, this container of flesh.
 
I made up a language in which to exist. 
I wondered what God breathed into me. 
 
I wondered who I was beyond
this complicated, milk-skinned, genital-ed body. 
 
I exercised it, watched it change and grow. 
I spun like a dervish to see what would happen. Oh, 
 
to be a Negro is—is?—
to be a Negro, is. To be. 
 

Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. 

An original poem written for the inaugural reading of Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith at the Library of Congress.

There’s a poem in this place—
in the footfalls in the halls
in the quiet beat of the seats.
It is here, at the curtain of day,
where America writes a lyric
you must whisper to say.

There’s a poem in this place—
in the heavy grace,
the lined face of this noble building,
collections burned and reborn twice.

There’s a poem in Boston’s Copley Square
where protest chants
tear through the air
like sheets of rain,
where love of the many
swallows hatred of the few.

There’s a poem in Charlottesville
where tiki torches string a ring of flame
tight round the wrist of night
where men so white they gleam blue—
seem like statues
where men heap that long wax burning
ever higher
where Heather Heyer
blooms forever in a meadow of resistance.

There’s a poem in the great sleeping giant
of Lake Michigan, defiantly raising
its big blue head to Milwaukee and Chicago—
a poem begun long ago, blazed into frozen soil,
strutting upward and aglow.

There’s a poem in Florida, in East Texas
where streets swell into a nexus
of rivers, cows afloat like mottled buoys in the brown,
where courage is now so common
that 23-year-old Jesus Contreras rescues people from floodwaters.

There’s a poem in Los Angeles
yawning wide as the Pacific tide
where a single mother swelters
in a windowless classroom, teaching
black and brown students in Watts
to spell out their thoughts
so her daughter might write
this poem for you.             

There's a lyric in California
where thousands of students march for blocks,
undocumented and unafraid;
where my friend Rosa finds the power to blossom
in deadlock, her spirit the bedrock of her community.
She knows hope is like a stubborn
ship gripping a dock,
a truth: that you can’t stop a dreamer
or knock down a dream.

How could this not be her city
su nación
our country
our America,
our American lyric to write—
a poem by the people, the poor,
the Protestant, the Muslim, the Jew,
the native, the immigrant,
the black, the brown, the blind, the brave,
the undocumented and undeterred,
the woman, the man, the nonbinary,
the white, the trans,
the ally to all of the above
and more?

Tyrants fear the poet.
Now that we know it
we can’t blow it.
We owe it
to show it
not slow it
although it
hurts to sew it
when the world
skirts below it.       

Hope—
we must bestow it
like a wick in the poet
so it can grow, lit,
bringing with it
stories to rewrite—
the story of a Texas city depleted but not defeated
a history written that need not be repeated
a nation composed but not yet completed.

There’s a poem in this place—
a poem in America
a poet in every American
who rewrites this nation, who tells
a story worthy of being told on this minnow of an earth
to breathe hope into a palimpsest of time—
a poet in every American
who sees that our poem penned
doesn’t mean our poem’s end.

There’s a place where this poem dwells—
it is here, it is now, in the yellow song of dawn’s bell
where we write an American lyric
we are just beginning to tell.

Copyright © 2017 by Amanda Gorman. Reprinted from Split This Rock's The Quarry: A Social Justice Database.