What doesn’t resemble me is more beautiful.

                —Mahmoud Darwish, “To a Young Poet”

Because I should’ve wrote this years
ago, I’m crying. So what my slow
failure pass the years
  Make me be crying. So what
in Bethlehem I tried to push so
much against it, where the Wall is
checkpoint and weird. So what
  My lonelier, sadder blackeraches
kept from me a heard resonance with
the land thought against my body, so
what.
I arrived.

2. CHECKPOINT
And have known some privilege.

3. CHECKPOINT
And have seen some freedom.

4. CHECKPOINT
I mean, I told myself No, you shouldn’t
compare it—myself to Palestine—no,
I—

5. CHECKPOINT
But I compared it, drew that wound,
leaned into a kind of pity so new to me
who—

6. CHECKPOINT
—was so used to being all base &
bottom of the world; I tried, but felt
that distant, thieving love dilate my
eyes.

7.
And I cried, softly.

8.
So what I had not asked for, did not
want this. So what. I thought Tears
cheapened it, sissy’d it. So what.
     But was a newprivilege I met as
salt Slipped, downed and furthered
my face, an

     AMERICAN
                And then Black

privilege began to describe me.
Imagine that! I was some doubler
consciousness again,
  me watching four boys swing their
joy on an old couch-on-wheels
  Before that Wall’s forestalling
future, so who greeted them first was
my tears; they’re playing a game.

9.
A song: Palestine keeps a divided
home, where Blackness only roams.

10.
The tears! But panic I could call a film
for this frame that’s guilt, the next is
friendship: Am I what in Palestine?
  Or is it my “voice” insisting
the story, by certain marks, in
whisperings—What do I mean
  by Spirit?—of warring, intifada,
blood like Dew in the fields....
  The story is true.

11. THE WALL
Killings are thrilling, the Wall said,
and casual:
  (1) little infant trying—;
  (2) women in their—;
  (3) dogs sleeping;
  (4) boys.
  —What do I mean by Spirit?— The
birth of a nation means alway the
death of a former one.

12.
Sitting here near ole Bayou Road,
again all spleen. The Palestinian men
I try with my eyes stare back half-
meanly; they don’t know I know they
know I’m trans—but I am the lady,
herself, within. Fiercely her walk
pierces a New Orleans’ slick night.
They like it.

13. THE WALL
But I was saying the birth of a nation

means always the death of a second
one.
  Israel is real, trifling, in someone’s
mind.

14. I felt that. I was persuaded. The
film peeling across my eyes, only one
Palestine,
  Made protest against this fact
untenable, as if myself I could see in
those fields,
  Saw too the theft and strangle of
myself.

15. SOLIDARITY EXISTS
What’s solid in solidarity—All I know
is still nooses, crosses; still thorns—
then it was white phosphorus forming
the quick shadow of a boy called
Freedom—in whispering, in curtains
mark—I’m somehow a distance from.
  Admission is a later knowledge, I
think. A right of return.

16.
A slower knowledge. To know it was
my want to see myself as that boy I
was seeing, that ache again and in
myself to be, blackerache, the one
most hurt.

17.
Admission is a graver
knowledge, I think, trick
privilege, instance when,
tonight Maryam reminds
me,
  Recalled to just-that-
where White phosphorus is made.

“Arkansas, baby! oh, yeah—
  I wonder if Palestine can
be Black? A Nigga be
Filinistina?
  And creole twain.
“And it pass right thru”—
peculiar—“that Port of New Orleans.”
Orleans.”
  Can—

18. CHECKPOINT
(They’re playing game)
  —they keep a divided home, where
how Blackness only roams?
  Friend. “Oh, it’s sick—”

18. CHECKPOINT
Light slides across the face of a body.
Dark does.

19. CHECKPOINT
The next shot is familiar:
  rows of cotton dipped in historical
red; burnt cork; crows; rows of bullets
ripped into some resembling, slum
skin, ache—
  But—

20. CHECKPOINT
—Try again: they are soldiers I am
seeing, Israeli, only the present tense,
I should’ve said this years ago.
  I should’ve made this article
confession, spelled out between poem
and novel years ago. Tall lyric, a space
of briar ambition and its mess of all
the violences witnessed—

21.
—and the beauty.
  I should loathe this gravity, of
those violences, these easy collisions I
make from item to idea or like to like.
  But I love to like, to raise the lyric
analogy and have you consume: the
way an eye carries down the page;
down the shallow energy of my head
voice now; because I bid it do, to the
hilt

22. SEMICOLON —to the silt. These built up
semicolons, the top dot like the
soldier’s rifle target, the comma
dangling for how the dead do give
pause, I should hate it;
  I should spit, I should—

23. WANT
need the harder thinking,
which is rigor gammed with care,
the possibility of that, that’s all,
unmannered, uneven—
  Like some New Orleanian unique
South, that occupies the psychot of
my brain’s desire, words I worry into
existence.

24. FREEDOM BEGS
Let’s say the freedom of poetry can be
the danger of it, could be the draw? So
what?
  Tried in Jerusalem; tried in
Hebron—
  But I saw everything I needed to
see in the labored chain-work of the
overhanging canopy that keeps—those
whisperings, certain marks—rocks
from falling on the shopkeepers’
heads;
  Took a video of the Palestinian
man who said, “Go back. Tell it.”

25. Who wants a pacifying gospel
delivered knows I cannot please them,
knows I cannot sincerely stop these
telling tears.

26. NIGHT-WALKING WOMAN
Yet I walk, eyes like a lady’s reminded
to my purpose with truth. Palestine
cries a divided home, where Blackness
bedamned to roam, and we share a
Dome.
  Friend, look in my eyes. To have
no home is yet a difference from the
denial of return, and don’t we both
ache for home?
  Slavery is true; as Occupation
remains true; as a sky cross-stitched
and beaded with turning danger is true:
Together our nights singly moan.

27.
I mean, I have not stopped this ego
rolled down my cheeks and who asked
for witness?

28. WITNESS
I first saw myself as the shame I took
fully for myself, those years ago—
  But was written away from it.

29. A free world, I think, is possible. I am
persuaded.
  I saw it in the still-for-singing
beauty of the land, how Palestine
makes a gold hum in my mouth. Saw
it in the not-now-warring, rolling hills
of Ramallah my feet at least tried to
walk frankly in and felt—

30. CHECKPOINT
—yes, a resonance. What could I
imagine now?

31. CHECKPOINT
What new eyes could I claim?

32. CHECKPOINT
What must you admit, really, to be
free?

33. CHECKPOINT
That I tried my body landing and
and thinking completely
Palestine, so what.

34. CHECKPOINT
And was I wrong?

Notes:

I first arrived in Palestine, through the Jordan corridor, with the Palestine Festival of Literature in 2016, accompanied by such elites as J. M. Coetzee and Saidiya Hartman. Though Hartman, the only other Black American on the caravan, passed through easily, I was barred for an hour at the first checkpoint. How come?

Where I mention “doubler consciousness” I refer to W. E. B. Du Bois’s theory of Black persons’ double consciousness, which keeps divided interests between Blackness and what he called “Americanness” (or whiteness) ever within the confines of Black life. Can there be more?

Where I mention “slum,” see the aforementioned Saidiya Hartman and her expansive theory on the afterlives of slavery and their impact on what she calls the “fungible body.” The slum, she theorizes, is where we find such marked bodies. But is that the only place?

I want to thank Sharif Abdul Koddous and all the organizers of the Palestine Festival of Literature; Kristina Kay Robinson, in whose seminal, performance project Republica: Temple of Color and Sound we meet Maryam DeCapita; and Ru Freeman, John Hennessy, and Emily Everett for all their various help in (re)shaping and shepherding this poem toward its present form. But is it done?

Copyright © 2023 by Rickey Laurentiis. This poem was first printed in The Common, Issue 26 (November 2023). Used with the permission of the publisher.

 

This is what leaves like a prayer: 
the collard greens my father planted.

A collard is a cabbage that does not develop a heart.

Their green leaves are like hands 
about to clasp in solemn devotion, 
arching towards the sun for a blessing.

My father sleeps in his grave.

And the collard greens he planted 
keep growing in his autumn garden.
The frost sweetens them
and the time comes to reap what dead
hands have sown. My brother cuts 
the green hands from the earth’s body.
the green prayers do not leave the black earth.

But here we are. At the table with turkey
and stuffing. Clasping our hands over 
his greens drenched in hamhock juice. 

We eat prayers. 

This we do in remembrance of him.
Take. Eat. His love
grown for you and me.

Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Bartell Boykin. This poem appeared in The Raleigh Review: Literary & Arts Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 2, Fall 2015Used with permission of the author.
 

ט

There’s nothing the plague dead did that we
didn’t do. We gave our unprotected bodies
to strangers too—before we met & burned
each other’s initials into our arms. Black ink
& ash smudge, foreheads anointed the day
of fasting. Neither of us knows why
he deserved to survive, the virus
a hummingbird hovering above
the flower’s stamen before gliding off
to another bloom. On Granville Island
I, ghost, took you, ghost, to be my lawful—
my body still craving to be broken into
like a window; yours the rock that smashes.

From Instructions for Seeing a Ghost (University of North Texas Press, 2020) by Steve Bellin-Oka. Copyright © 2020 by Steve Bellin-Oka. Used with the permission of the poet. 

the slight angling up of the forehead
neck extension                        quick jut of chin

meeting the strangers’ eyes
a gilded curtsy to the sunfill in another

in yourself      tithe of respect
in an early version the copy editor deleted

the word “head” from the title
the copy editor says              it’s implied

the copy editor means well
the copy editor means

she is only fluent in one language of gestures
i do not explain                     i feel sad for her

limited understanding of greetings              & maybe
this is why my acknowledgements are so long;

didn’t we learn this early?
            to look at white spaces

            & find the color       
            thank god o thank god for

                                                             you               
                                                                                        are here.

Copyright © 2020 by Elizabeth Acevedo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

1.  
Now that I can, I am afraid to become a citizen.
I don’t want to become anything because I’m afraid of being seen. 

I am arriving, and departing, 
and later I will punish myself for looking over 
at the person sitting next to me on the plane, checking their screen 
and reading their email. For now there is no punishment.
Today I have realized everyone is just as boring as me. 
Everyone in TSA had enormous hands. 
I still refuse to travel with my green card.


2. 
It is my mother’s birthday and I bought her merchandise from a school 
I didn’t attend but only visited. She, too, understands the value of cultural capital.  

Today I am wounded. I like to say wounded instead of sad. Sadness is reserved
for days when I can actually make money from what I do. 
My mother raised me to make sure nothing I ever did I did for free. 


3.
When I land, Northern California is burning. 
We keep a suitcase near the door just in case.  
A man calls me three different names before giving up
and asks if my son has begun coughing yet.  
Beneath all that ash, no one seems bothered if you cry in public. 

Sitting around a circle of grateful alcoholics, some of whom will leave 
the room towards a clear portrait of their ruin,
which can either mean they will or will never return, 
a man tells me I have been selfish, and I admit I have. 
Sometimes I want every goddamn piece of the pie. 
A woman pulls aside her mask to smoke and says 
she’s going to look up what temperature 
teeth begin to melt, the implication being that if teeth melted, 
they won’t be able to identify her parents who are still missing in Paradise.

When I pray, I don’t know who I am talking to yet.
I take the eucharist in my mouth for the first time 
since changing religions and it is not as holy as I imagined. 


4. 
How easy. How effortless. This breath. 
I’m here. I’m here. I’m right here. I want to say.
I wish things were simple, like taking just one drink
and not another, like not burning in a fire, 
like letting things be good without being holy.
I wouldn’t have to pretend to try
to resume the bounty of this blossom.  

Copyright © 2019 Marcelo Hernandez Castillo. This poem was originally published in Quarterly West. Used with permission of the author.

translated from the Spanish by Jack Hirschman

Like you I
love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.
And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.
I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
love,
little things,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.


Como Tú

Yo, como tú,
amo el amor, la vida, el dulce encanto
de las cosas, el paisaje
celeste de los días de enero.
También mi sangre bulle
y río por los ojos
que han conocido el brote de las lágrimas.
Creo que el mundo es bello,
que la poesía es como el pan, de todos.
Y que mis venas no terminan en mí
sino en la sangre unánime
de los que luchan por la vida,
el amor,
las cosas,
el paisaje y el pan,
la poesía de todos.

From Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination (Curbstone Press, 2000), edited by Martín Espada. Used with the permission of Northwestern University Press.

A George Washington quarter was a cuarta. Two cuartas bought us una soda from a vending machine. We asked abuelito for a cuarta to play the video game console. No, he said, una peseta. No, una cuarta. Una peseta para la máquina. He called the console a machine. Like the machine (máchina) that dropped a cuarta for every six cans Mother put in. La máchina is what Father had us puchar across yardas on the weekends. At work we ate lonche. At school we ate lunch. At home we ate both. Queki was served on birthdays. It was bien gaucho to have your birthday skipped again. Skipiar was done to the unsolvable math problem, which was never attempted again. Half our time was spent on homework, the other half was spent wacheando TV. Wacha signaled you were about to do something impressive, but foolish, like a bike stunt. !Wáchale! is what your friends tell you when you nearly plow into them with your bike. A bike is a baika. Uncle Jesse peddled a baika to the grocery store to buy leche y cornflais. Leche, not tortillas, were heated in the microgüey. Un güey is a dude. Uncle Beto called more than two people “una bola de güeyes.” I secretly listened to the Beastie Boys in Uncle Beto’s troka because I could turn it up full blast.  Uncle Jesse peddles back from Queimar with two new plaid shirts. Dad’s returning from his trip to the dompe, where he left last week’s garbage. Mother’s fixing Spam sángüiches. Abuelito pulls from his pocket a peseta, but hands me a cuarta.

From The Date Fruit Elegies (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by John Olivares Espinoza. Used with the permission of Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe.

When I come home they rush to me, the flies, & would take me, they would take me in their small arms if I were smaller, so fly this way, that way in joy, they welcome me. They kiss my face one two, they say, Come in, come in. Sit at this table. Sit. They hold one hand inside the other & say, Eat. They share the food, sit close to me, sit. As I chew they touch my hair, they touch their hands to my crumbs, joining me. The rim of my cup on which they perch. The milky lake above which. They ask for a story: How does it begin? Before, I was a child, & so on. My story goes on too long. I only want to look into their faces. The old one sits still, I sit with it, but the others busy themselves now with work & after the hour which maybe to them is a week, a month, I sleep in the room between the open window & the kitchen, dreaming though I were the Sierra, though I were their long lost sister, they understand that when I wake I will have to go. One helps me with my coat, another rides my shoulder to the train. Come with me, come, I say. No, no, it says, & waits with me there the rest whistling, touching my hair, though maybe these are its last seconds on earth in the light in the air is this love, though it is little, my errand, & for so little I left my house again.

Copyright © 2020 by Aracelis Girmay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 2, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.