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.
Copyright © 2020 Tyree Daye. From Cardinal (Copper Canyon Press, 2020). Used with permission of the author and Copper Canyon Press (coppercanyonpress.org)