We are mired in matter until we are not
— Ralph Lemon
I thought we were an archipelago
each felt under our own finessed and gilded wing
let’s make an assumption
let’s make an assumption that the lake has a bottom
let’s make an assumption that everyone will mourn
let’s sack a hundred greenbacks
for the sake of acknowledging they mean something
what does it mean to have worth?
who would dream to drain a lake?
I spent my days staring into the eye of the Baltic
it’s because I am also a body of water
it’s not that onerous
I’ve built a muscle memory
it’s not that heavy
let’s talk about erasure I mean
start with a word that you don’t like
start with a people you didn’t know
start with a neighborhood, rank
start with any miasma dispersed
let’s talk about burden
let’s talk about burden for the weight
it lends us
let’s talk about supplication
about my palms — uplift, patience
let’s celebrate our substance
amber rivulets of stilllife
constellations how you molded me
country how we became it
the longitude is a contested border
my longest muscle I named familiar
Copyright © 2020 by Asiya Wadud. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 26, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Oft, when my lips I open to rehearse
Thy wondrous spell of wisdom, and of power,
And that my voice, and thy immortal verse,
On listening ears, and hearts, I mingled pour,
I shrink dismayed – and awful doth appear
The vain presumption of my own weak deed;
Thy glorious spirit seems to mine so near,
That suddenly I tremble as I read –
Thee an invisible auditor I fear:
Oh, if it might be so, my master dear!
With what beseeching would I pray to thee,
To make me equal to my noble task,
Succor from thee, how humbly would I ask,
Thy worthiest works to utter worthily.
This poem is in the public domain.
for Kenneka Jenkins and her mother
What is it about my mother’s face, a bright burn
when I think back, her teeth, her immaculate teeth
that I seldom saw or knew, her hair like braided
black liquorice. I am thinking of my mother’s face,
because she is like the mother in the news whose
daughter was found dead, frozen inside a hotel freezer.
My mother is this mourning mother who begged
the staff to search for her daughter, but was denied.
Black mothers are often seen pleading for their children,
shown stern and wailing, held back somehow by police
or caution tape—
a black mother just wants to see her baby’s body.
a black mother just wants to cover her baby’s body
with a sheet on the street. A black mother
leaves the coffin open for all the world to see,
and my mother is no different. She is worried
about seeing the last minutes of me: pre-ghost,
stumbling alone through empty hotel hallways
failing to find balance, searching for a friend,
a center, anyone, to help me home. Yes.
I’ve gotten into a van with strangers.
I’ve taken drugs with people that did not care
how hard or fast I smoked or blew.
But what did I know of Hayden? What did I know
of that poem besides my mother’s hands, her fist,
her prayers and premonitions? What did I know
of her disembodied voice hovering over the seams
of my life like the vatic song the whip-poor-will
makes when it can sense a soul dispersing?
Still. My mother wants to know where I am,
who I am with, and when will I land.
I get frustrated by her insistence on my safety
and survival. What a shame I am. I’m sorry, mom.
Some say Black love is different. Once,
I asked my mother why she always yelled
at me when I was little. She said I never listened
to her when she spoke to me in hushed tones
like a white mother would, meaning soft volume
is a privilege. Yeah, that’s right. I am using a stereotype
to say a louder thing. I am saying my mother
was screaming when she lost me in the mall once.
I keep hearing that voice everywhere I go.
I follow my name. The music of her rage sustains me.
Copyright © 2019 by Tiana Clark. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets. An excerpt from this poem originally appeared in an essay for Oxford American.
The pale sound of jilgueros trilling in the jungle. Abuelo rocks in his chair and maps the birds in his head, practiced in the geometry of sound. My uncle stokes the cabin’s ironblack stove with a short rod. The flames that come are his loves. I cook—chile panameño, coconut milk— a recipe I’d wanted to try. Abuelo eats, suppresses the color that builds in his cheek. To him the chile is a flash of snake in the mud. He asks for plain rice, beans. Tío hugs his father, kneels in front of the fire, whispers away the dying of his little flames. We soak rice until the water clouds. On the television, a fiesta… The person I am showing the poem to stops reading. He questions the TV, circles it with a felt pen. “This feels so out of place in a jungle to me. Can you explain to the reader why it’s there?” For a moment, I can’t believe. You don’t think we have 1930s technology? The poem was trying to talk about stereotype, gentleness instead of violence for once. But now I should fill the little room of my sonnet explaining how we own a TV? A shame, because I had a great last line— there was a parade in it, and a dancing horse like you wouldn’t believe.
Copyright © 2018 by Jacob Shores-Argüello. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.