All hail! This honest dusky maid,
Let all others prostrate fall;
Bring forth the international diadem,
And crown her queen of all.
In all pure womanly qualities,
She stands serene and tall,
Way up above the average,
This makes her queen of all.
She’s not a sluggard at any place,
She answers duty’s call
Come all ye people, small and great,
And crown her queen of all.
She stands bolt upright by her men,
She will not let them fall,
Now for her valor, tip your hat,
And crown her queen of all.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 9, 2020, 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.
—Milledgeville, Georgia 18581
Hand, servant, same as bondsman, slave,
and necessarily a negro4 in this context,
but not all blacks were held in bondage
though bound by the constructed fetters
of race—that expedient economic tool
for making a class of women and men
kept in place based on the color writ
across their faces—a conservative notion
for keeping power in the hands of the few5.
It kept the threat held over the heads of all
negroes, including those free blacks,
who after the coming war would be
called the formerly free people of color
once we were all ostensibly free.
Hands, enslaved, handled clay
and molds in the making of bricks
to build this big house for the gathering
of those few men with their white faces
who hold power like the end of the rope.
Hand, what’s needed to wed, and a ring
or broom. Hand, a horse measure, handy
in horse-trading6. We also call the pointers
on the clock that go around marking time
in this occidental fashion, handy for business
1Milledgeville, my hometown, touts itself as the Antebellum Capital and it was that, but it was also, for the duration of the Civil War, the Confederate Capital of Georgia, and where Joseph Emerson Brown, the governor of Georgia from November 6, 1857 till June 17, 1865, lived with his family in the Governor’s Mansion. Governors brought enslaved folks, folks they held as property, from their plantations to work as the household staff at the Governor’s Mansion.
2 Hand as in handwriting, which is awful
in my case, so I type, but way back when,
actually, only 150 years ago—two long-lived
lives—by law few like me had a hand.
3 What’s needed is a note on the laws
that constructed race in the colonies
and young states, but that deserves
a library’s worth of writing.
4 Almost a decade after reading the typescript of a letter written by Elizabeth Grisham Brown, Gov. Joseph Emerson Brown’s wife, I finally got to read the original letter written in her hand; I got to touch it with my hand. I got to verify that she’d written what I’d read in the typescript. I’d thought about this letter she wrote home to her mother and sister at their plantation for near a decade because of its closing sentences: “Hoping you are all well, we will expect to hear from you shortly. Mr. Brown and the children join me in love to you all.” And caught between that and her signing “Yours most affectionately, E. Brown” she writes “The negroes send love to their friends.” Those words in that letter struck me when I first read them and have stuck with me since. There is so much there that speaks to the situation those Black folk were in then and the situation Black folk are in now. I intend for the title of my next book to be The Negroes Send Love to Their Friends.
5And this arrangement also served the rest
who would walk on the white side of the color
line, so they would readily step at the behest
of that narrative of race and their investment
in what is white and Black.
6 Prospective buyers would inspect
Negroes like horses or other livestock
and look in their mouths.
Copyright © 2020 by Sean Hill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 9, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
It is easy to erase it—a touch of the delete key on this keyboard. Barely moving my finger. Versus how much intention it took to use the eraser on a pencil, to flip the pencil around my thumb and scrub out the lead etched on the paper.
Stone and rain laugh at me. The amount of time it takes to get marks out of stone (gouges, rough edges, grooves) by rubbing them with water.
Copyright © 2019 by Todd Fredson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 29, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
For Uncle Paul N’nem
hell nah over my dead—i paid mine. I checked
Black & subtraction knows what it did. made Black
a box to check. subtraction doesn’t know how even
a sigh seasons the roux & the second breath my mother
was always trying to catch. american. emergency.
subtraction doesn’t know Black’s many bodies & body’s
of water. though subtraction does. sunken. gifting the sea’s
new strange stones. subtraction reopened the barbershops &
bowling alleys. insists church. sent us home with inhalers &
half-assed sentences: in god - we - the people - vs - degradation
vs - a new packaged deliverance. homicide. hallelujah.
i’ll be damned. i’ll be back before i’ll be buried. i been Black
& ain’t slept since. subtraction needs my blood to water
their weapons to subtract my blood. do you see the necessity
for dreaming? or else the need to stay awake. to watch. worried.
the hand. invisible. make a peace sign. then a pistol.
Copyright © 2020 by Donte Collins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 10, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The person you are trying
is not accepting. Is not
at this time. Please
again. The person
you are trying is not
in service. Please check
that you have. This
is your call. Your
person is not accepting.
Your person is this
number. You have
not correctly. Your person
is a recording. Again later
at this time. Not accepting.
Copyright © 2020 by Martha Collins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 12, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Loud laughers in the hands of Fate—
Nurses of babies,
Loaders of ships,
Comedians in vaudeville
And band-men in circuses—
God! What dancers!
God! What singers!
Singers and dancers,
Dancers and laughers.
Loud-mouthed laughers in the hands of Fate.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 20, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Spring in Hell and everything’s blooming.
I dreamt the worst was over but it wasn’t.
Suppose my punishment was fields of lilies sharper than razors, cutting up fields of lies.
Suppose my punishment was purity, mined and blanched.
They shunned me only because I knew I was stunning.
Then the white plague came, and their pleas were like a river.
Summer was orgiastic healing, snails snaking around wrists.
In heat, garbage festooned the sidewalks.
Old men leered at bodies they couldn’t touch
until they did. I shouldn’t have laughed but I laughed
at their flesh dozing into their spines, their bones crunching like snow.
Once I was swollen and snowblind with grief, left for dead
at the castle door. Then I robbed the castle and kissed my captor,
my sadness, learned she was not a villain. To wake up in this verdant field,
to watch the lilies flay the lambs. To enter paradise,
a woman drinks a vial of amnesia. Found in only the palest
flowers, the ones that smell like rotten meat. To summon the stinky
flower and access its truest aroma, you have to let its stigma show.
You have to let the pollen sting your eyes until you close them.
Copyright © 2019 by Sally Wen Mao. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 31, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
I dreamt the spirit of the codfish:
in rafters of the mind;
fly out into the winter’s
mirth off alder tendrils sashay;
while I set up
my winter tent;
four panels long—beams suspend
I sit & pull blubber strips aged in a poke bag;
I’m shadowing the sun as a new moon icicle
time melts when white hawks come.
Copyright © 2020 by dg nanouk okpik. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 30, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
Just a rainy day or two
In a windy tower,
That was all I had of you—
Saving half an hour.
Marred by greeting passing groups
In a cinder walk,
Near some naked blackberry hoops
Dim with purple chalk.
I remember three or four
Things you said in spite,
And an ugly coat you wore,
Plaided black and white.
Just a rainy day or two
And a bitter word.
Why do I remember you
As a singing bird?
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 25, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
It’s true that I’m im-
patient under affliction. So?
Most of what the dead can
do is difficult to carry. As for
gender I can’t explain it
any more than a poem: there
was an instinct, I followed
it. A song. A bell. I saw
deer tracks in the snow. Little
split hearts beckoned me
across the lawn. My body
bucked me, fond of me.
Here is how you bear this flourish.
Bud, I’m buckling to blossoms now.
Copyright © 2020 by Oliver Baez Bendorf. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.