Assétou Xango performs at Cafe Cultura in Denver.
“Give your daughters difficult names.
Names that command the full use of the tongue.
My name makes you want to tell me the truth.
My name does not allow me to trust anyone
who cannot pronounce it right.”
Many of my contemporaries,
Have a name that brings the tongue to worship.
Names that feel like ritual in your mouth.
I don’t want a name said without pause,
muttered without intention.
I am through with names that leave me unmoved.
Names that leave the speaker’s mouth unscathed.
I want a name like fire,
like my hand gripping massa’s whip—
I want a name from before the ships
A name Donald Trump might choke on.
I want a name that catches you in the throat
if you say it wrong
and if you’re afraid to say it wrong,
then I guess you should be.
I want a name only the brave can say
a name that only fits right in the mouth of those who love me right,
because only the brave
can love me right
Assétou Xango is the name you take when you are tired
of burying your jewels under thick layers of
Assétou the light
Xango the pickaxe
so that people must mine your soul
just to get your attention.
If you have to ask why I changed my name,
it is already too far beyond your comprehension.
Call me callous,
but with a name like Xango
I cannot afford to tread lightly.
You go hard
or you go home
and I am centuries
and ships away
from any semblance
of a homeland.
I am a thief’s poor bookkeeping skills way from any source of ancestry.
I am blindly collecting the shattered pieces of a continent
much larger than my comprehension.
I hate explaining my name to people:
their eyes peering over my journal
looking for a history they can rewrite
Ask me what my name means...
What the fuck does your name mean Linda?
Not every word needs an English equivalent in order to have significance.
I am done folding myself up to fit your stereotype.
Your black friend.
Your African Queen Meme.
Your hurt feelings.
Your desire to learn the rhetoric of solidarity
without the practice.
I do not have time to carry your allyship.
I am trying to build a continent,
My name is the only thing I have that is unassimilated
and I’m not even sure I can call it mine.
The body is a safeless place if you do not know its name.
Assétou is what it sounds like when you are trying to bend a syllable
into a home.
With shaky shudders
And wind whistling through your empty,
I feel empty.
There is no safety in a name.
No home in a body.
A name is honestly just a name
A name is honestly just a ritual
And it still sounds like reverence.
Copyright © 2017 Assétou Xango. Used with permission of the poet. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 9, 2020.
“...The straitjackets of race prejudice and discrimination do not wear only southern labels. The subtle, psychological technique of the North has approached in its ugliness and victimization of the Negro the outright terror and open brutality of the South.”
― Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can't Wait (Beacon Press, 2011)
this here the cradle of this here
nation—everywhere you look, roots run right
back south. every vein filled with red dirt, blood,
cotton. we the dirty word you spit out your
mouth. mason dixon is an imagined line—you
can theorize it, or wish it real, but it’s the same
old ghost—see-through, benign. all y’all from
alabama; we the wheel turning cotton to make
the nation move. we the scapegoat in a land built
from death. no longitude or latitude disproves
the truth of founding fathers’ sacred oath:
we hold these truths like dark snuff in our jaw,
Black oppression’s not happenstance; it’s law.
Copyright © 2020 by Ashley M. Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
breathe for George Floyd we
breathe for compassion we
do not know what that is we
another black man holy we
gone now George Floyd we
Ahmaud running street endless we
America scream & love we
do not know what love is we
breathe George Floyd flames we
next to you on a sp halt cho ke we
knee Am Am
e ri c a w e
Copyright © 2020 by Juan Felipe Herrera. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.
And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
From The Prophet (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.