The world’s largest Confederate monument
was too big to perceive on my earliest trips to the park.
Unlike my parents, I was not an immigrant
but learned, in speech and writing, to represent.
Picnicking at the foot and sometimes peak
of the world’s largest Confederate monument,
we raised our Cokes to the first Georgian president.
His daughter was nine like me, but Jimmy Carter,
unlike my father, was not an immigrant.
Teachers and tour guides stressed the achievement
of turning three vertical granite acres into art.
Since no one called it a Confederate monument,
it remained invisible, like outdated wallpaper meant
long ago to be stripped. Nothing at Stone Mountain Park
echoed my ancestry, but it’s normal for immigrants
not to see themselves in landmarks. On summer nights,
fireworks and laser shows obscured, with sparks,
the world’s largest Confederate monument.
Our story began when my parents arrived as immigrants.
Copyright © 2019 by Adrienne Su. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Boy-mischief and boy-carelessness and noise
Extenuated all, allowed, excused and smoothed away,
Each duty missed, each damaging wild act,
By this meek statement of unquestioned fact–
Boys will be boys!
Calm motherhood in place of boisterous youth;
No warfare now; to manage and arrange,
To nurture with wise care, is woman’s way,
In peace and fruitful industry her sway,
In love and truth.
This poem is in the public domain.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.
Instead of sleeping—
I walk with him from the store.
No Skittles, thank you.
We do not talk much—
Sneakers crossing the courtyard.
Humid Southern night.
We shake hands and hug—
Ancient, stoic tenderness.
I nod to the moon.
I'm so old school—
I hang till the latch clicks like.
An unloaded gun.
Copyright © 2015 by Reuben Jackson. Used with permission of the author.
Fuss, fight, and cutting the huckley-buck—Dear Malindy,
Underground, must I always return to the country of the dead,
To the coons catting about in the trees, the North Carolina pines
Chattering about sweetening bodies in their green whirring?
Do these letters predict my death—some sound of a twig
Breaking then a constant drowning—a butter bean drying
Beneath my nails? Casket, rascal, and corn bread cooling board.
Dear Malindy, when the muskrats fight in the swamp I knows
It’s you causing my skull to rattle. You predicted my death
With my own baby teeth and a rancid moon beneath our legs.
No girl, my arm still here. The antlers on the mantle yet quiet.
All the ocean’s water without me and yet in me. Never mind,
Malindy. They already shot the black boy on the road for dying
Without their permission. Yes, gal, I put on my nice suit. And wait.
Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement:
"If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately."
Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. "Help,"
said the flight agent. "Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this."
I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.
"Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
se-wee?" The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly
used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled
entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the
next day. I said, "No, we're fine, you'll get there, just later, who is
picking you up? Let's call him."
We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to
her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just
for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I
thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know
and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee,
answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool
cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and
nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the
lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered
sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.
And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two
little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they
were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—
by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag,
some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-
tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.
This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.
Naomi Shihab Nye, "Gate A-4" from Honeybee. Copyright © 2008 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with permission.
On the train the woman standing makes you understand there are no seats available. And, in fact, there is one. Is the woman getting off at the next stop? No, she would rather stand all the way to Union Station.
The space next to the man is the pause in a conversation you are suddenly rushing to fill. You step quickly over the woman's fear, a fear she shares. You let her have it.
The man doesn't acknowledge you as you sit down because the man knows more about the unoccupied seat than you do. For him, you imagine, it is more like breath than wonder; he has had to think about it so much you wouldn't call it thought.
When another passenger leaves his seat and the standing woman sits, you glance over at the man. He is gazing out the window into what looks like darkness.
You sit next to the man on the train, bus, in the plane, waiting room, anywhere he could be forsaken. You put your body there in proximity to, adjacent to, alongside, within.
You don't speak unless you are spoken to and your body speaks to the space you fill and you keep trying to fill it except the space belongs to the body of the man next to you, not to you.
Where he goes the space follows him. If the man left his seat before Union Station you would simply be a person in a seat on the train. You would cease to struggle against the unoccupied seat when where why the space won't lose its meaning.
You imagine if the man spoke to you he would say, it's okay, I'm okay, you don't need to sit here. You don't need to sit and you sit and look past him into the darkness the train is moving through. A tunnel.
All the while the darkness allows you to look at him. Does he feel you looking at him? You suspect so. What does suspicion mean? What does suspicion do?
The soft gray-green of your cotton coat touches the sleeve of him. You are shoulder to shoulder though standing you could feel shadowed. You sit to repair whom who? You erase that thought. And it might be too late for that.
It might forever be too late or too early. The train moves too fast for your eyes to adjust to anything beyond the man, the window, the tiled tunnel, its slick darkness. Occasionally, a white light flickers by like a displaced sound.
From across the aisle tracks room harbor world a woman asks a man in the rows ahead if he would mind switching seats. She wishes to sit with her daughter or son. You hear but you don't hear. You can't see.
It's then the man next to you turns to you. And as if from inside your own head you agree that if anyone asks you to move, you'll tell them we are traveling as a family.
Originally published in Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014). Copyright © by Claudia Rankine. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
We travel carrying our words.
We arrive at the ocean.
With our words we are able to speak
of the sounds of thunderous waves.
We speak of how majestic it is,
of the ocean power that gifts us songs.
We sing of our respect
and call it our relative.
Translated into English from O’odham by the poet.
’U’a g T-ñi’okı˘
T-ñi’okı˘ ’att ’an o ’u’akc o hihi
Am ka:ck wui dada.
S-ap ‘am o ’a: mo has ma:s g kiod.
mat ’am ’ed.a betank ’i-gei.
’Am o ’a: mo he’es ’i-ge’ej,
mo hascu wud. i:da gewkdagaj
mac ’ab amjed. behě g ñe’i.
Hemhoa s-ap ‘am o ’a: mac si has elid, mo d. ’i:mig.
Used with the permission of the author.
Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.
Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
This poem is in the public domain.
I go with the team also. —Whitman These are the last days my television says. Tornadoes, more rain, overcast, a chance of sun but I do not trust weathermen, never have. In my fridge only the milk makes sense— expires. No one, much less my parents, can tell me why my middle name is Lowell, and from my table across from the Confederate Monument to the dead (that pale finger bone) a plaque declares war—not Civil, or Between the States, but for Southern Independence. In this café, below sea- and eye-level a mural runs the wall, flaking, a plantation scene most do not see— it's too much around the knees, height of a child. In its fields Negroes bend to pick the endless white. In livery a few drive carriages like slaves, whipping the horses, faces blank and peeling. The old hotel lobby this once was no longer welcomes guests—maroon ledger, bellboys gone but for this. Like an inheritance the owner found it stripping hundred years (at least) of paint and plaster. More leaves each day. In my movie there are no horses, no heroes, only draftees fleeing into the pines, some few who survive, gravely wounded, lying burrowed beneath the dead— silent until the enemy bayonets what is believed to be the last of the breathing. It is getting later. We prepare for wars no longer there. The weather inevitable, unusual— more this time of year than anyone ever seed. The earth shudders, the air— if I did not know better, I would think we were living all along a fault. How late it has gotten . . . Forget the weatherman whose maps move, blink, but stay crossed with lines none has seen. Race instead against the almost rain, digging beside the monument (that giant anchor) till we strike water, sweat fighting the sleepwalking air.
Excerpted from For the Confederate Dead by Kevin Young Copyright © 2007 by Kevin Young. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Row after row with strict impunity The headstones yield their names to the element, The wind whirrs without recollection; In the riven troughs the splayed leaves Pile up, of nature the casual sacrament To the seasonal eternity of death; Then driven by the fierce scrutiny Of heaven to their election in the vast breath, They sough the rumour of mortality. Autumn is desolation in the plot Of a thousand acres where these memories grow From the inexhaustible bodies that are not Dead, but feed the grass row after rich row. Think of the autumns that have come and gone!-- Ambitious November with the humors of the year, With a particular zeal for every slab, Staining the uncomfortable angels that rot On the slabs, a wing chipped here, an arm there: The brute curiosity of an angel's stare Turns you, like them, to stone, Transforms the heaving air Till plunged to a heavier world below You shift your sea-space blindly Heaving, turning like the blind crab. Dazed by the wind, only the wind The leaves flying, plunge You know who have waited by the wall The twilight certainty of an animal, Those midnight restitutions of the blood You know--the immitigable pines, the smoky frieze Of the sky, the sudden call: you know the rage, The cold pool left by the mounting flood, Of muted Zeno and Parmenides. You who have waited for the angry resolution Of those desires that should be yours tomorrow, You know the unimportant shrift of death And praise the vision And praise the arrogant circumstance Of those who fall Rank upon rank, hurried beyond decision-- Here by the sagging gate, stopped by the wall. Seeing, seeing only the leaves Flying, plunge and expire Turn your eyes to the immoderate past, Turn to the inscrutable infantry rising Demons out of the earth they will not last. Stonewall, Stonewall, and the sunken fields of hemp, Shiloh, Antietam, Malvern Hill, Bull Run. Lost in that orient of the thick and fast You will curse the setting sun. Cursing only the leaves crying Like an old man in a storm You hear the shout, the crazy hemlocks point With troubled fingers to the silence which Smothers you, a mummy, in time. The hound bitch Toothless and dying, in a musty cellar Hears the wind only. Now that the salt of their blood Stiffens the saltier oblivion of the sea, Seals the malignant purity of the flood, What shall we who count our days and bow Our heads with a commemorial woe In the ribboned coats of grim felicity, What shall we say of the bones, unclean, Whose verdurous anonymity will grow? The ragged arms, the ragged heads and eyes Lost in these acres of the insane green? The gray lean spiders come, they come and go; In a tangle of willows without light The singular screech-owl's tight Invisible lyric seeds the mind With the furious murmur of their chivalry. We shall say only the leaves Flying, plunge and expire We shall say only the leaves whispering In the improbable mist of nightfall That flies on multiple wing: Night is the beginning and the end And in between the ends of distraction Waits mute speculation, the patient curse That stones the eyes, or like the jaguar leaps For his own image in a jungle pool, his victim. What shall we say who have knowledge Carried to the heart? Shall we take the act To the grave? Shall we, more hopeful, set up the grave In the house? The ravenous grave? Leave now The shut gate and the decomposing wall: The gentle serpent, green in the mulberry bush, Riots with his tongue through the hush-- Sentinel of the grave who counts us all!
From Selected Poems by Allen Tate, published by Charles Scribner's Sons. Copyright © 1937 by Charles Scribner's Sons. Used with permission.
On the fifth day
the scientists who studied the rivers
were forbidden to speak
or to study the rivers.
The scientists who studied the air
were told not to speak of the air,
and the ones who worked for the farmers
and the ones who worked for the bees.
Someone, from deep in the Badlands,
began posting facts.
The facts were told not to speak
and were taken away.
The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent.
Now it was only the rivers
that spoke of the rivers,
and only the wind that spoke of its bees,
while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees
continued to move toward their fruit.
The silence spoke loudly of silence,
and the rivers kept speaking
of rivers, of boulders and air.
Bound to gravity, earless and tongueless,
the untested rivers kept speaking.
Bus drivers, shelf stockers,
code writers, machinists, accountants,
lab techs, cellists kept speaking.
They spoke, the fifth day,
from Ledger (Knopf, 2020); first appeared in The Washington Post. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.