valentine for Sally Hemings

there’s a dead jefferson in every black girl’s belly,
an unknown hunger for something stolen.
i found a poem in these parts, in the belly of a black girl.

i was told to look in the garage,
into the person i almost liked,
at the bottom of an odd blue sock buried
in my dresser drawer:
the hiding places of my life.

oh, but if you only knew
the way I wanted to love the dead president,
rescue him from the depths of a stomach,
feed him the warm soil from a Virginia plantation,
feed him pages from my history books,
heavy with lies.

but then i heard Sally scream,
and wondered what she’d think of me,
i heard Sally scream
and wondered what all the black girls
with bloated bellies would think of me
in my confusion:
the way i mistaked his breath, smelling of lavender and france,
for liberty,
when this scent was made of more potent stuff,
of silence,
of a black girl’s blood against white sheets.

i went looking for a poem
in the darkness,
a love poem for Sally,
an apology,
a revelation,
a dead man haunting the hallways
of a breaking girl.


Copyright @ 2014 by Sojourner Ahebee. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 19, 2014.

About this Poem

"This poem was sparked after my completion of a history paper that touched on Thomas Jefferson and the way in which his historical legacy has been presented to the average American citizen for centuries. This poem rose from a place of great frustration and indignation for the sexual abuses put upon Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s slave. I wanted to understand Heming's history as a means of understanding all the historical tension that Black women in America still carry with them to this day. Through “valentine for Sally Hemings” I wanted to question our often contradictory ideals of American liberty/freedom, and Thomas Jefferson's political and personal life offered a plethora of contradiction waiting to be addressed."

—Sojourner Ahebee