after Margaret Walker’s “For My People”
The Lord clings to my hands
after a night of shouting.
The Lord stands on my roof
& sleeps in my bed.
Sings the darkened, Egun tunnel—
cooks my food in abundance,
though I was once foolish
& wished for an emptied stomach.
The Lord drapes me with rolls of fat
& plaits my hair with sanity.
Gives me air,
music from unremembered fever.
oh that i may give air to my people
oh interruption of murder
the welcome Selah
The Lord is a green, Tubman escape.
A street buzzing with concern,
minds discarding answers.
Black feet on a centuries-long journey.
The Lord is the dead one scratching my face,
pinching me in dreams.
The screaming of the little girl that I was,
the rocking of the little girl that I was—
the sweet hush of her healing.
skipping on homesick pink.
I pray to my God of confused love,
a toe touching blood
& swimming through Moses-water.
A cloth & wise rocking.
An eventual Passover,
outlined skeletons will sing
this day of air
for my people—
oh the roar of God
oh our prophesied walking
Copyright © 2020 by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 17, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
you woman tree woman one
swaying to unheard of winds uninvented air streams
you woman sky with palms broad enough to hold eqypt
who taught me to walk
slow and deliberate
like i had somewhere to go
who taught me stories
that needed telling
to love men and women who needed
who taught me to fetch life
out of the depths of rivers
taught me the words
that the tree branches sang to wake
the sun and bring morning home
who taught me to love loving
with my eyes wide open
who taught me to dance and smile
to clap with an open heart
From Breath of the Song: New and Selected Poems (Carolina Wren Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by Jaki Shelton Green. Used with the permission of the author.
When the blue and red sirens pass you,
when the school calls because your child
beat the exam and not a classmate,
when the smart phone drops but does not crack,
the rush escaping your mouth betrays your upbringing:
thank you Jesus—a balm over the wound.
When the mammogram finds only density,
when the playground tumble results
in a bruise, not a broken bone,
like steam from a hot tea kettle
thank you Jesus—and the pent-up fear
vents upward, out. Maybe it’s a hand
over breast, supplication learned deeper
than flesh as if one could shush the soul,
the fluttering heartbeat with three words.
Maybe it’s not so dire—an almost trip on the sidewalk,
the accumulated sales total showing savings upon savings,
maybe it’s as small as an empty seat on the Metro
or maybe thank you Jesus—becomes the refrain
every time your husband pulls into the driveway,
alive and whole, and no one has mistaken him
for all the black, scary things. You mutter it,
helpless to stop yourself from the invocation
of a grandmother who gave you your first bible,
you say it because your mother, even knowing
your doubt as a vested commodity, still urges prayer.
You learned early to cast the net—thank you Jesus
and it’s a sweet needle that gathers the fraying thread,
hemming security in steady stitches. From birth
you’ve heard this language; as an adult
you’ve seen religion used nakedly as ambition yet
this sacrifice of praise, still slips past your lips,
this lyrical martyr of your dying faith.
Copyright © 2017 by Teri Ellen Cross Davis. “Thank You Jesus” originally appeared in Harvard Review Online. Reprinted with permission of the author.