We must have gills
hidden under keloid skin,
because sometimes we are too
tired from forging rivers, navigating
tides, and crossing gulfs.

I convince myself I can breathe underwater. 
How else have we emerged from 
Gulf loop currents and New Sargasso seas?

Traiteurs, Yukhiti Ipošok, Root-workers, Bean feasa, 
and Alikchi speak in Kréyol-Mobilian currents to grandmothers 
lost, tossed, and surfaced on Gulf shoals and riverbanks.

Yemaya, Šiwāt-Oket, Mélusine
Hvashi, and Mami Wata, lick tears—
Water-women swallowing salted prayer drops.

Give us salinity to float in the betweens.
Surrender to flood waters. 

We could not be drowned— 
so they sought to bind us

But these songs dredge-up memories like water
pouring from spaces between soil and root, flood dry plains 
lifting to carry me through the hurricane.

Speaking in polyvocal tongues center of eye calm 
makes way for calamity. We know how to swim 
holding our breath across generations.

You see, we do have gills…
It’s where we keep our stories.
It’s how we float.

Copyright © 2024 by Rain Prud’homme-Cranford. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 15, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.