We hold these truths to be self-evident...

             —The Declaration of Independence

             The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

             —Amendment XIX


In Rochester, New York,
you were buried and I was born,
and both of us voted for the very first time

and we—would you include me in your “we”?
may I include you in mine?—
were both denied and abridged

on account of sex, told our bodies made us less
than who we knew we were
by the same United States

that wrapped us in the privilege
perversely accorded
to the whiteness of our skins.

Unlike me, you didn’t take privilege for granted.
At 17, I was doing drugs and hitching
across the country whose injustice

I didn’t want to see; you were petitioning
for the end of slavery,
practicing for a lifetime

of opposing institutions
that diminish humanity.
My parents did social work, back

when the social work business was booming;
yours, abolitionists, made money from a cotton factory,
profiting from slavery

until, ruined, they bought a farm in Rochester,
hosting activists on Sundays, including Frederick Douglass,
who became a friend.

A few years later, about the age
I devoted myself to getting tenure at a school
that still doesn’t hire black professors

and pays women less than men
(I got a bonus for pretending
I was one of them),

you devoted your life to making
the kind of trouble
I spent my life avoiding,

speaking out, getting arrested, refusing to pretend
to be other or less
than the woman you were,

an unabridged citizen
determined to make America as true
as Frederick Douglass and you

to the “We”
that created her.


In Rochester, New York,
it was against the law for you to vote,
but still, it wasn’t easy

for a white lady like you, well-schooled and well-connected,
to get sent to jail.
First, you had to brave the barbershop

and bully the election inspectors
into registering you.
Hair was being cut, razors stropped,

the beards of patriarchy trimmed.
The boys weren’t moved by your citation
of the 14th Amendment and the New York Constitution

until you threatened legal action.
You had a judge behind you, you said.
You did.

Fourteen women altogether
made it onto the rolls, prompting a newspaper to proclaim in panic:
“Citizenship no more carries the right to vote

than the right to fly to the moon.”
“Well I have been and gone and done it!!”
you wrote your bff, Elizabeth Cady (“Mrs.”) Stanton—

not flown to the moon, but “positively voted”
on the fifth of November, 1872.
A week and a half later, a warrant was issued for your arrest

for voting while female
(maximum penalty: three years imprisonment).
A deputy marshal appeared in your parlor

wearing a beaver hat; said the weather was fine
(not likely, given the beaver hat and Rochester in November)
and invited you (you were a white lady, after all)

to call on the election commissioner.
“Is that the way you arrest men?” you asked. Demanded
to be led out in handcuffs.

You won that argument too.
The embarrassed young man
brought you, you would later say,

to “the same dingy little room where ... fugitive slaves
were examined and returned to their masters.”
A grand jury was impaneled.

You were delighted, hoping to be imprisoned,
and twice refused bail.
No such luck. Your own attorney bailed you out

because, he said, “I could not see a lady I respected
put in jail.” The good news was
the grand jury, twenty men, indicted you

for voting, the charges said,
being then and there, as you well knew,
a person of the female sex,

contrary to the statute
and against the peace
of the United States of America.

In a grey silk dress, white lace collar, and neatly knotted hair,
you spent the months before your trial
giving speeches the prosecutor feared

would persuade every potential juror
to find you innocent. He needn’t have worried.
The Supreme Court had been busy

narrowing the 14th Amendment
to preserve the right to discriminate
on the basis of sex. The judge sustained the objection

that you, as a woman, were “not competent” to testify
about your own opinions;
barred you from taking the stand;

read the guilty verdict he’d written
before the trial began.
He didn’t let the jurors say a word,

but though he kept trying,
he couldn’t stop you from declaring
that you’d been convicted according to laws

written, interpreted and applied
by and for the very same men
who, not long before, had made it a crime,

“punishable with a $1,000 fine
and six months imprisonment”
to give a fugitive slave

a swallow of water or crust of bread.
“As the slaves who got their freedom,” you said,
“over, or under, or through

the unjust forms of law,
now, must women, to get their right
to a voice in this government, take it.”

Over every objection, you did.


In Rochester, New York,
I grew up in the America you insisted had no right
not to exist:

slavery abolished, voting rights
unabridgeable, at least on paper,
on account of race or sex,

child of a card-carrying member
of your descendants, the League of Women Voters. My mother
who thought I was her son

taught me nothing
about how to be a woman,
but she taught me to vote

and how to drive a stick;
stood up for herself in supermarkets,
spoke in a low voice (she’d trained for radio)

and showed me how to live
without being ashamed
of being different. A magazine on her nightstand

taught me the word for what I am,
though it was forty years
before she heard me say it,

a word you never learned,
a word that didn’t exist
for a way of being human

you probably couldn’t imagine.
I guess I’m not a truth
you’d hold self-evident.

I wonder if you’d think I was created equal,
was created at all, in fact,
or am just another outrage

perpetrated by men. I wonder if you’d see me
refusing to be abridged
and tell me, as my mother did,

“Whatever you look like,
you’ll always be my child.”
No. You wouldn’t say that.

You didn’t have people like me in mind
when you fought your country to redefine
what it means to be a woman,

but here we are
and here I am, abridged, like you, on account of sex, wrapped
in education, money, and whiteness

that have so far kept me from being jailed,
evicted, beaten, burned or tossed in a ditch
as my sisters have

for defying, like you, statute and form
and every decree and argument
that we are created less,

created to hide, created to cringe, created to accept
that we’re excluded, by definition,
from the unabridgeable “We”

by whom, for whom,
America was created.
As you said in your suffrage speeches,

I’m not arguing the question.
America needed you to refuse
the unjust forms

you dragged her
over and under and through.
Whether or not you see us

as your daughters,
America needs us too.

Acknowledgments: Historical details and some phrases in this poem drawn from “The Trial of Susan B. Anthony: an Account,” by Professor Douglas O. Linder, the Wikipedia biography of Susan B. Anthony, and the second count of the indictment of Susan B. Anthony for voting.

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

I shall never have any fear of love, 
Not of its depth nor its uttermost height,
Its exquisite pain and its terrible delight.
I shall never have any fear of love.

I shall never hesitate to go down
Into the fastness of its abyss
Nor shrink from the cruelty of its awful kiss.
I shall never have any fear of love.

Never shall I dread love’s strength
Nor any pain it might give.
Through all the years I may live
I shall never have any fear of love.

I shall never draw back from love
Through fear of its vast pain
But build joy of it and count it again.
I shall never have any fear of love.

I shall never tremble nor flinch
From love’s moulding touch:
I have loved too terribly and too much
Ever to have any fear of love.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 20, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Coming out isn’t the same as coming to America

except for the welcome parade

put on by ghosts like your granduncle Roy

who came to New York from Panamá in the 50s

and was never heard of again

and by the beautiful gays who died of AIDS in the 80s

whose cases your mother studied

in nursing school. She sent you to the US to become

an “American” and you worry

she’ll blame this country

for making you a “marica,”

a “Mary,” like it might have made your uncle Roy.

The words “America” and “marica” are so similar!

Exchange a few vowels

and turn anyone born in this country

queer. I used to watch Queer as Folk as a kid

and dream of sashaying away

the names bullies called me in high school

for being Black but not black enough, or the kind of black they saw on TV:

black-ish, negro claro, cueco.

It was a predominately white school,

the kind of white the Spanish brought to this continent

when they cozened my ancestors from Africa.

There was no welcome parade for my ancestors back then

so, they made their own procession, called it “carnaval”

and fully loaded the streets with egungun costumes,

holy batá drum rhythms, shouting and screaming in tongues,

and booty dancing in the spirit.

I don’t want to disappear in New York City,

lost in a drag of straightness.

So instead, I proceed

to introduce my mother to my first boyfriend

after I’ve moved her to Texas

and helped make her a citizen.

Living is trafficking through ghosts in a constant march

toward a better life, welcoming the next in line.

Thriving is wining the perreo to soca on the

Noah’s Arc pride parade float, like you’re

the femme bottom in an early aughts gay TV show.

Surviving is (cross-)dressing as an American marica,

until you’re a ‘merica or a ‘murica

and your ancestors see

you’re the king-queen of Mardi Gras,

purple scepter, crown, and krewe.

Copyright © 2020 by Darrel Alejandro Holnes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 25, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Over the housetops,
Above the rotating chimney-pots,
I have seen a shiver of amethyst,
And blue and cinnamon have flickered
A moment,
At the far end of a dusty street.

Through sheeted rain
Has come a lustre of crimson,
And I have watched moonbeams
Hushed by a film of palest green.

It was her wings,
Who stepped over the clouds,
And laid her rainbow feathers
Aslant on the currents of the air.

I followed her for long,
With gazing eyes and stumbling feet.
I cared not where she led me,
My eyes were full of colours:
Saffrons, rubies, the yellows of beryls,
And the indigo-blue of quartz;
Flights of rose, layers of chrysoprase,
Points of orange, spirals of vermilion,
The spotted gold of tiger-lily petals,
The loud pink of bursting hydrangeas.
I followed,
And watched for the flashing of her wings.

In the city I found her,
The narrow-streeted city.
In the market-place I came upon her,
Bound and trembling.
Her fluted wings were fastened to her sides with cords,
She was naked and cold,
For that day the wind blew
Without sunshine.

Men chaffered for her,
They bargained in silver and gold,
In copper, in wheat,
And called their bids across the market-place.

The Goddess wept.

Hiding my face I fled,
And the grey wind hissed behind me,
Along the narrow streets.

This poem is in the public domain. 

Little cramped words scrawling all over the paper
Like draggled fly's legs,
What can you tell of the flaring moon
Through the oak leaves?
Or of my uncertain window and the bare floor
Spattered with moonlight?
Your silly quirks and twists have nothing in them
Of blossoming hawthorns,
And this paper is dull, crisp, smooth, virgin of loveliness
Beneath my hand.

I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against
The want of you;
Of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it.
And I scald alone, here, under the fire
Of the great moon.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 9, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive. This poem is in the public domain.

You are ice and fire,
The touch of you burns my hands like snow.
You are cold and flame.
You are the crimson of amaryllis,
The silver of moon-touched magnolias.
When I am with you,
My heart is a frozen pond
Gleaming with agitated torches.

This poem is in the public domain.