never thought I
would see it here
in this Otherwhere,
no plantation in sight
no patterned pods
for the picking,
nor calloused hands
to plow & gin
an untouched December
bluff surrounded by scrubs of green
a dust-whipped road heading south
toward no one’s harvest.
Copyright © 2023 by Fred L. Joiner. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 19, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
After she died, I’d catch her
stuffing my nose with pine needles and oak,
staring off into the shadows of early morning.
Me, too jetlagged for the smells a ghost leaves behind.
The tailor of histories,
my mother sewed our Black Barbies and Kens
Nigerian clothes, her mind so tight against
the stitching, that in precision, she looked mean
as hell, too. My mother’s laugh was a record skipping,
so deep she left nicks in the vinyl.
See? Even in death, she wants to be fable.
I don’t know what fathers teach sons,
but I am moving my mother
to a land where grief is no longer
gruesome. She loved top 40, yacht rock,
driving in daylight with the wind
wa-wa-ing through her cracked window
like Allah blowing breath
over the open bottle neck of our living.
She knew ninety-nine names for God,
and yet how do I remember her—
as what no god could make?
Copyright © 2023 by Hafizah Augustus Geter. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 18, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
okra, pickled just the way you like it,
in the jar on the top shelf. oranges
in the ochre clay bowl you made right there
on the counter. clove tea brewing stovetop
& there’s an orison that my mama
taught me, metronoming ’gainst my orbital
bones. orbiting around my occipital.
come through. let’s be each other’s oracles.
we can hold hands, craft a shrine in the gap
of our palms, in the ocean of our breaths
at the shore of our oil-shined flesh. listen:
this is my oath to you. i’m devoted
to you, the people, my folks, my kindred—
not to the state. & i belong with you—
not to the state. our love is ordained
by the Black ordinary & spectacle,
our wayward waymaking. we are the more
gathered together here in our own names
calling on otherwise. serenading
otherwheres. singing we already here—
Copyright © 2023 by Destiny Hemphill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 24, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
Violence thrives like violet on the vine, but I’m rare
today, with you. I came to Napa nappy-headed,
impressively unconcerned, with heft to me. Air
kisses the wine we bring to lip: I’m not wedded
to folks, I say, the way I was. Parts of me have died
with more to expire; troubled times have changed
us both. Left to silence, a question rises—if you lied
to spare me wrath turned inward. You’ve arranged
any moment of peace I’ve ever lived in: Love, it’s hard
to trust a good thing these days, harder still to be one.
Crimson colors in our stemmed glasses. Sorry-ass bard,
feeling no ounce of romance toward the world. No gun
could woo me, though. I want to be here. Need to be—
me, the half-full fool of us. I can’t imagine what you see.
Copyright © 2023 by Cortney Lamar Charleston. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 2, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
Parchman Farm Chain Gang, Sunflower County Mississippi, 1911
How long since my left foot has known a day
It did not spend drug along by your right? Since the first
Rust-iron rattlers made fields of cattails kneel, fronds
Curdling like browlines in brutal heat? I forget
My name, its sins, when I march behind you. I know nothing
Of before. Nothing but your nape, its tributary of creases;
But your gait, pressing smooth miles of streetside weeds.
What else can a lonesome roadboy do but look
At the one to his front: you, with keloid scars inside
Even your ears, you with long lashes that, when blinked,
Seem heavier than these chains, all the men they carry.
What I wouldn’t give to see your eyes open again
After that brief, merciful closing. What I don’t have
to give. What I know, if I did, I would.
Copyright © 2023 by Ariana Benson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 8, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.