Field Notes on Beginning

1. 

I wear my grandmother’s bones like a housedress through the city. 
Some nights the block tells me all its problems. 
I’ll meet you at the top of the biggest rock in Rolesville 
or on train headed to a reading in Queens, just tell me where. I promise 
to gather your bones only for good. 
I was not swallowed by the darkness between two buildings. 
I don’t want to die in the south like so many of mine. I want to be carried back. 

2. 

I dreamed we were digging in a field in Rolesville 
looking for an earth we knew the name of. 
You stepped into the hole, looked behind you and gestured me in. 
I saw every lover who held you while your children slept 
in rooms of small heaters, you wrap the blankets so tight, 
afraid of any cold that might get in. 

3. 

I said my goodbyes, my dead will not come. I will not see a cardinal in the city 
so I drew one on my chest. A coop inside a coop inside of me. 
Leaving is necessary some say. There is a whole ocean between you and a home 
you can’t fix your tongue to speak. Others do not want me 
no further than a length of a small yard, they ask where are you going Tyree? 
Your mama here, you’ve got stars in your eyes. A ship in your movement.

More by Tyree Daye

I Wanted to Place an Ocean

I tell my uncle’s ghost

don’t waste your time haunting white folks who owe you money,

I try to give him my body, but he won’t take it,
                                                and pulls his wagon on.

I began in fields near pines where we laughed and fried fish.
                               If someone were to sing,

it would grow through each ghost

                               and be heard as geese crossing overhead.

The dead know
                     the work they have done,
 

and if they are not careful their hands

will stay in the shape of that work.
 

My hands haven’t touched cotton or tobacco,

I haven’t pulled small green worms
 

or carried them inside with me hidden in the body’s doublings.
 

I only was a child in harvested fields,

when my people let the cotton sleep there were no vacations,

the fields of Rolesville belong to my kinfolk, dead and alive

and I don’t know if my great-grandparents ever saw the ocean

                                                   or fell asleep on the beach.

To: All Poets From: Northeastern North Carolina

It’s just getting hot,
    dogwoods showering our shoulders with flowers.

I saw dead baby birds on a trail
   so I know new life has arrived

lost in the survival of pine and ash. I’ll say it plainly—
we need you down here.

Yesterday, my uncle put a nail through his thumb
working for the same white man he’s worked for since sixth grade.

Last night his blood fell on the bathroom floor and made a star
he couldn’t follow.

He needs to hear your poems.

The Motorcycle Queen

for Bessie Stringfield

You said you took God with you to all 48 states.

You caroled your grief on an Indian Scout,

 

rode your Harley until the crowd forgot it was a motorcycle,

saw a stallion riding the track wall,

breaking for a field’s freedom.

 

You wanted a story you could tell

about surviving America on two wheels,

 

six years too early for the Green Book.

But I understand leaving.

I’ve been looking

 

                          to see the world.

Related Poems

The Shoots

Nicholas turned     eleven two

Months he ago a he ago

I after him a-running still

But quietly and far away


For the first time turned     far away

Without me or     without that day

Me seeing him on all the bright-

ness gone     the day     the snow had gone


Completely gone     as we have gone

Who were the worlds we walked     far down

Into our lives without each oth-

er as     snow into earth as water


Goes into earth     and as the water

Touches the roots the dry roots wait for

A signal from the sun and air

And do not green the shoots     and what


The water thought it was and what

I thought I was we learn we’re not we’re

Life but not always life and not

Forever     he grows without his father