Love Poem in the Black Field

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. 

About this Poem

“This piece is one in a suite of ‘Love Poem[s] in the Black Field,’ which arose from an obsession with understanding how, despite all that our forebears endured, our love, in all that it is, survived. And I am very certain it did survive, our love. I am proof of its existence. So, I found myself conjuring scenes like this one—a man hitched to a chain, longing for the simple intimacy of a met gaze—moments in which this love may have flourished, if only briefly; may have sown seeds beneath two paramours’ feet, knowing it would have to winter awhile before reemerging.”
Ariana Benson