She, being the midwife
and your mother’s
longtime friend, said
I see a heart; can you
see it? And on the grey
display of the ultrasound
there you were as you were,
our nugget, in that moment
becoming a shrimp
or a comma punctuating
the whole of my life, separating
its parts—before and after—,
a shrimp in the sea
of your mother, and I couldn’t
help but see the fast
beating of your heart
translated on that screen
and think and say to her,
to the room, to your mother,
to myself It looks like
a twinkling star.
I imagine I’m not
the first to say that either.
Unlike the first moments
of my every day,
the new of seeing you was the first
—deserving of the definite article—
moment I saw a star
at once so small and so
big, so close and getting closer
every day, I pray.

More by Sean Hill

The Sun in Bemidji, Minnesota

The sun isn’t even a pearl today—
its light diffused, strained gray
by winter haze—this the grayest
day so far, so when I enter the Wells
Fargo parking lot the last thing I expect
is to see the sun in the car next to mine.
I watch a woman make out with the sun,
and I’m jealous of the sun. Beautiful
beyond her desire—wanting the sun
so—she almost glows as she tugs
sweetness from his whiskers with
her teeth, and his drool runs down
her chin. I think the sun is a man,
but it’s hard to tell in this light. No,
it’s a mango, and I’m jealous of her.

Governor’s Mansion Hands

                              —Milledgeville, Georgia 18581

The hand2 in which the laws of the land3
were penned was that of a white man.

Hand, servant, same as bondsman, slave,
and necessarily a negro4 in this context,
but not all blacks were held in bondage
though bound by the constructed fetters
of race—that expedient economic tool
for making a class of women and men
kept in place based on the color writ
across their faces—a conservative notion
for keeping power in the hands of the few5.
It kept the threat held over the heads of all
negroes, including those free blacks,
who after the coming war would be
called the formerly free people of color
once we were all ostensibly free.

Hands, enslaved, handled clay
and molds in the making of bricks
to build this big house for the gathering
of those few men with their white faces
who hold power like the end of the rope.

Hand, what’s needed to wed, and a ring
or broom. Hand, a horse measure, handy
in horse-trading6. We also call the pointers
on the clock that go around marking time
in this occidental fashion, handy for business
transactions, hands.


1Milledgeville, my hometown, touts itself as the Antebellum Capital and it was that, but it was also, for the duration of the Civil War, the Confederate Capital of Georgia, and where Joseph Emerson Brown, the governor of Georgia from November 6, 1857 till June 17, 1865, lived with his family in the Governor’s Mansion. Governors brought enslaved folks, folks they held as property, from their plantations to work as the household staff at the Governor’s Mansion.

2 Hand as in handwriting, which is awful
in my case, so I type, but way back when,
actually, only 150 years ago—two long-lived
lives—by law few like me had a hand.

3 What’s needed is a note on the laws that constructed race in the colonies and young states, but that deserves a library’s worth of writing.

4 Almost a decade after reading the typescript of a letter written by Elizabeth Grisham Brown, Gov. Joseph Emerson Brown’s wife, I finally got to read the original letter written in her hand; I got to touch it with my hand. I got to verify that she’d written what I’d read in the typescript. I’d thought about this letter she wrote home to her mother and sister at their plantation for near a decade because of its closing sentences: “Hoping you are all well, we will expect to hear from you shortly. Mr. Brown and the children join me in love to you all.” And caught between that and her signing “Yours most affectionately, E. Brown” she writes “The negroes send love to their friends.” Those words in that letter struck me when I first read them and have stuck with me since. There is so much there that speaks to the situation those Black folk were in then and the situation Black folk are in now. I intend for the title of my next book to be The Negroes Send Love to Their Friends.

5And this arrangement also served the rest
who would walk on the white side of the color
line, so they would readily step at the behest
of that narrative of race and their investment
in what is white and Black.

6 Prospective buyers would inspect Negroes like horses or other livestock and look in their mouths.

Related Poems

Recognitions

When my son was a few weeks old,
replicas of his yawning face appeared
suddenly on drowsy passersby:

middle-aged man’s gape that split his beard,
old woman on a bus, a little girl—
all told a story that I recognized.

Now he is fifteen.
As my students shuffle in the door
of the classroom, any of the boys

could easily be him—
foot-dragging, also swaggering a little,
braving the perils of a public space

by moving in a wary little troop.
But the same sleepy eyes, the same soft face.
We recognize the people whom we love,

or love what we respond to as our own,
trusting that one day someone
will look at us with recognition.

In the Airport

A man called Dad walks by
then another one does. Dad, you say
and he turns, forever turning, forever
being called. Dad, he turns, and looks
at you, bewildered, his face a moving 
wreck of skin, a gravity-bound question 
mark, a fruit ripped in two, an animal 
that can't escape the field.

Knuckle Head

My son’s head is a fist
rapping against the door of the world.
For now, it’s dressers, kitchen islands,

dining room tables that coax his clumsy, creating
small molehills of hurt breaching
the surface. The ice pack,

a cold kiss to lessen the blow equals
a frigid intrusion, a boy cannot be a boy
with all this mothering getting in the way.

Sometimes the floor plays accomplice
snagging an ankle, elbow, top lip to swell.
Other times it’s a tantrum, when he spills his limbs

onto the hardwood, frenzied then limp with anger,
tongue clotted with frustration,
a splay of 2 year-old emotion voiced in one winding wail.

My son cannot continue this path.
Black boys can’t lose control at 21, 30, even 45.
They don’t get do-overs.
So I let him flail about now,
let him run headfirst into the wall
learn how unyielding perceptions can be.

Bear the bruising now,
before he grows, enters a world
too eager to spill his blood, too blind to how red it is.