“...The straitjackets of race prejudice and discrimination do not wear only southern labels. The subtle, psychological technique of the North has approached in its ugliness and victimization of the Negro the outright terror and open brutality of the South.”
― Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can't Wait (Beacon Press, 2011)
this here the cradle of this here
nation—everywhere you look, roots run right
back south. every vein filled with red dirt, blood,
cotton. we the dirty word you spit out your
mouth. mason dixon is an imagined line—you
can theorize it, or wish it real, but it’s the same
old ghost—see-through, benign. all y’all from
alabama; we the wheel turning cotton to make
the nation move. we the scapegoat in a land built
from death. no longitude or latitude disproves
the truth of founding fathers’ sacred oath:
we hold these truths like dark snuff in our jaw,
Black oppression’s not happenstance; it’s law.
Copyright © 2020 by Ashley M. Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
breathe for George Floyd we
breathe for compassion we
do not know what that is we
another black man holy we
gone now George Floyd we
Ahmaud running street endless we
America scream & love we
do not know what love is we
breathe George Floyd flames we
next to you on a sp halt cho ke we
knee Am Am
e ri c a w e
Copyright © 2020 by Juan Felipe Herrera. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Now and then the phone will ring and it will be
someone from my youth. The voice of a favorite cousin
stretched across many miles sounding exactly as she always has:
that trained concentration of one who stutters—
the slight hesitations, the drawn-out syllables,
the occasional lapse into a stammer.
When asked, she says my aunt is well for her age but
she forgets. I remember the last time I saw my aunt—
leaning on her cane, skin smooth as river rock,
mahogany brown, gray hair braided into two plaits
stretched atop her head and held in place
with black bobby pins.
She called to say James Lee has died. And did I know
Aunt Mary, who had four crippled children
and went blind after uncle Benny died, died last year?
I did not.
We wander back awhile, reminding and remembering:
Me under the streetlight outside our front yard
face buried in the crook of my arm held close
to the telephone pole as I closed my eyes and sang the words:
Last night, night before, twenty-four robbers at my door
I got up to let them in... hit ‘em in the head with a rolling pin,
then counted up to ten while they ran and hid.
Visiting the graves of grandparents I never knew.
Placing blush-pink peonies my father grew and cut
for the occasion into mason jars. Saying nothing.
Simply staring at the way our lives come down
to a concrete slab.
Copyright © 2020 by Rhonda Ward. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
A prison is the only place that’s a prison.
Maybe your brain is a beehive—or, better:
an ants nest? A spin class?
The sand stuck in an hourglass? Your brain is like
stop it. So you practice driving with your knees,
you get all the way out to the complex of Little League fields,
you get chicken fingers with four kinds of mustard—
spicy, whole grain, Dijon, yellow—
you walk from field to field, you watch yourself
play every position, you circle each identical game,
each predictable outcome. On one field you catch.
On one field you pitch. You are center field. You are left.
Sometimes you have steady hands and French braids.
Sometimes you slide too hard into second on purpose.
It feels as good to get the bloody knee as it does to kick yourself in the shin.
You wait for the bottom of the ninth to lay your blanket out in the sun.
Admit it, Sasha, the sun helps. Today,
the red team hits the home run. Red floods every field.
A wasp lands on your thigh. You know this feeling.
Copyright © 2020 by Sasha Debevec-McKenney. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 26, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Honey Bell-Bey performs “Lost and Found.”
Every little black girl needs to take a trip to
the lost and found.
Every little black girl needs to look through boxes marked
and if she’s too strong,
she needs to look through the box marked “arrogant” or “witch” pronounced with a “B”
all of that weave and all those naps, those locs...
she needs to look through the box marked “hair”
she needs to search, “light skin”, “dark skin” the box marked “fair”
those big lips and hips that drop with ease,
and you see them searching for Sarah Baartman with the drop of their eyes,
every little black girl needs to remind herself that she is the prize.
Every little black girl needs to search
through the remnants of what another little black girl left for her,
she needs to take a trip through the lost and found and find her some “her”
Every little black girl needs to search through the lost and found.
She needs to look through the ballad of Sonia Sanchez
she needs to allow her ego to trip all the way with Nikki Giovanni,
she needs to assure Ntozake Shange that she is not considering suicide because the rainbow is enough,
She is not considering suicide because the rainbow is enough!!!!
She needs to dance through the Renaissance and find Zora Neal,
with her eyes still... watching God.
She needs to find Maya Angelou whispering in her ears “Still I Rise”
and when you feel broken ,
you are still a phenomenal woman, even with their bitter twisted lies,
every little black girl needs to take a trip to the lost and found
and there singing and chanting and praising will be Nina Simone,
and she’ll tell you that you are
the fifth woman in the song
and she’ll invite you to join Aunt Sarah and Safronia and Sweet Thing
and Peaches and Peaches
she’ll tell you that these are the stories that only the living teaches
Every little black girl whose stumbled like me along the way,
take a trip to the lost and found, and when you find it,
you leave a path for another black girl and when she finds it, she’ll leave a path for another black girl and then when she finds it, she’ll leave a path for another black girl and then she’ll leave a path for another black girl and then she’ll leave a path for another black girl and then she’ll leave a path for another black girl!!!!!
Copyright © 2016 Honey Bell-Bey. Used with permission of the poet.
Wild seas of tossing, writhing waves,
A wreck half-sinking in the tortuous gloom;
One man clings desperately, while Boreas raves,
And helps to blot the rays of moon and star,
Then comes a sudden flash of light, which gleams on shores afar.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 19, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
for Kait Rhoads
Gather up whatever is
glittering in the gutter,
whatever has tumbled
in the waves or fallen
in flames out of the sky,
for it’s not only our
hearts that are broken,
but the heart
of the world as well.
Stitch it back together.
Make a place where
the day speaks to the night
and the earth speaks to the sky.
Whether we created God
or God created us
it all comes down to this:
In our imperfect world
we are meant to repair
and stitch together
what beauty there is, stitch it
with compassion and wire.
See how everything
we have made gathers
the light inside itself
and overflows? A blessing.
From Only Now (Deerbrook Editions, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Stuart Kestenbaum. Used with permission of the author.
I do not crave to have thee mine alone, dear
Keeping thy charms within my jealous sight;
Go, give the world the blessing of thy beauty,
That other hearts may share of my delight!
I do not ask, thy love should be mine only
While others falter through the dreary night;
Go, kiss the tears from some wayfarer’s vision,
That other eyes may know the joy of light!
Where days are sad and skies are hung with darkness,
Go, send a smile that sunshine may be rife;
Go, give a song, a word of kindly greeting,
To ease the sorrow of some lonely life!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 12, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.