The cry I bring down from the hills
belongs to a girl still burning
inside my head. At daybreak
she burns like a piece of paper.
She burns like foxfire
in a thigh-shaped valley.
A skirt of flames
dances around her
We stand with our hands
hanging at our sides,
while she burns
like a sack of dry ice.
She burns like oil on water.
She burns like a cattail torch
dipped in gasoline.
She glows like the fat tip
of a banker’s cigar,
silent as quicksilver.
A tiger under a rainbow
She burns like a shot glass of vodka.
She burns like a field of poppies
at the edge of a rain forest.
She rises like dragonsmoke
to my nostrils.
She burns like a burning bush
driven by a godawful wind.
Copyright © 1988 Yusef Komunyakaa. From Dien Cai Dau (Wesleyan Poetry Series, 1988). Used with permission of the publisher, Wesleyan University Press.
I always took it for granted, the right to vote
And I knew what my mother meant
Her voice constricted tightly by the flu A virus
& a 30-year-relationship
with Newport 100s
I ain’t no chain smoker
she attempts to silence my concern
only a pack a week. That’s good, you know?
My mother survived a husband she didn’t want
and an addiction that loved her more
than any human needs
I sit to write a poem about the 100 year Anniversary
of the 19th Amendment
& my first thought returns to the womb
& those abortions I did not want at first
The thirst of an almost anything
is a gorge always looking to be
until the body is filled with more fibroids
On the 19th hour of the fourth day in a new decade
I will wake restless from some nightmare
about a bomb & a man with no backbone
on a golf course who clicks closed his Motorola phone
like an exclamation point against his misogynistic stance
He swings the golf club with each chant
Women let me grab
Women like me
Women vote until I say they don’t
In my nightmare he is an infective agent
In the clear of day
he is just the same
Every day he breathes is a threat to this country’s marrow
For Ida & Susan & Lucretia & Elizabeth Cady
& every day he tweets grief
like a cynical cornball comic’s receipts
like a red light signaling the end of times
The final night of 2019
& my New Year’s Eve plans involves
anything that will numb the pain
of a world breaking its own heart
My mother & I have already spoken
& her lungs are croaking wet
I just want you to know I don’t feel well
& I pause to pull up my stockings beneath my crumpled smile
On this day I sigh
I just wanted to dance & drink & forget about the 61.7% votes
My silk dress falls to my knees with the same swiftness
defiant as the white feminist who said “I’m your ally”
then voted for the demise of our nation’s most ignored
underpaid, imprisoned & impoverished citizens
Every day there is a telephone near
I miss my mother
In the waiting room of the OB/GYN
Uptown bound on the dirt orange train seat of the subway
O! How my mother loves the places she can never go
Her bones swaddled with arthritis & smoke
So she relies on my daily bemoans
The train smells like yesterday, Ma
They raise the tolls & fix nothing for the people
My landlord refuses to fix my toilet, my bathroom sink, my refrigerator
The city is annoying like an old boyfriend, always buzzing about nothing
& in the way of me making it on time to the polls
This woman didn’t say thank you when I held the door
& who does she think she is?
Each time I crack & cap on the everydayness of my day
My mother laughs as if she can see the flimsy MTA card
The yellow cabs that refuse to stop for her daughter
In these moments she can live again
A whole bodied woman with a full mouth
to speak it plain
I ask my mother what hurts?
How can I help from here?
3000 miles away
Alone in a tower between the sea
& the Mexico borders
My mother sighs a little sigh & says
I just wanted to hear your voice
Copyright © 2020 by Mahogany L. Browne. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative and published in Poem-a-Day on March 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.