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Jaki Shelton Green

Jaki Shelton Green is the author of eight collections, most recently I Want to Undie You (Jacar Press, 2017). In 2019, Green was named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. She currently teaches Documentary Poetry at Duke University Center for Documentary Studies and serves as the poet laureate of North Carolina.

By This Poet

12

a litany for the possessed

cultural whoremongers

appear on MTV

disguised dapper fresh

as third day bleached linens

from a sun not raised

on cotton indigo or gold

 

shaking singing ringing

baking dipping gliding

stomping sliding prancing

be-bopping dancing praising 

hip-hopping slipping slurping

belching fucking

 

grave pirates

sucking on the bones

of spirit prophets

malcolm ray miles

martin charlie

eldridge audre denmark

sojourner frederick countee

nat langston zora

louie richard nell

mahalia billie bessie

marcus gwendolyn

kwame toussaint mohammad

 

kente tie-dyed

refried batiked bleached

mudclothed dreaded blonded

matted twisted reddened

curled permed blackened greened

 

slinging

swords of quran bible torah

bringing

lies death deceit disgrace

 

juneteenth blood bones

sipping on holy water

that runs backwards

cultural whoremongers

holding hostage

prayers altars crosses

allah-hu akbar

axe

amen

namaste

shalom

 

addicts with poems

stuck between their teeth

join the night

pray for a vampirical moon

bootleg poems

sold beside remixed coltrane

rinsed out aretha sonnets

 

poets posing as undertakers

slip nip tuck drain

splinter irrigate protract

stitch catheterize graft

skin to word skin to history

skin to lies skin to truth

skin to battlefields in algiers

iraq vietnam korea somalia

johannesburg selma brooklyn

compton queens atlanta richmond

detroit afganistan

 

poets posing as seamstresses

sew faces sew teeth sew wombs

sew laughter sew tears sew regret

sew joy sew uprising sew anthems

sew constitutions sew treaties sew bombs

sew graves sew babies

 

brothas on the down low

sniffing for game

while sistas play

diva bohemian princess

sable goddess queen mother

high priestess of counterfeit

on a corner

that becomes continent

sahara amazon latin kurdish

 

the new immigrants

learn to walk

talk

become invisible

eat fire

twist glass

 

flat joins round

night forgets that

day is his true sister

rivers forget to open to skies

freedom is exposed raw naked

unadorned unnamed

 

cultural whoremongers

dressed up as words

metaphors preludes

benedictions

die alone

under skies that rant

retrace the scorn

theft murder

lynching of

a fallen muse
 

st. croix mornings

the beach at sunrise

raises its skirts

like a drunken pigeon

 

i raise my eyes awake

behind armored gates

somewhere deep in frederiksted

inside dark rooms

that shroud my skin

in the colors

of an evening gone bad

 

bluest black

rinsed indigo

uncensored red

 

dark nameless woman

washed ashore

skin seared

like an eclipse

out of season

 

warm water

nips under my

breast

seeps into my skin

 

and the ocean whispers

 

stay close

stay close

 

i strut red feathers like a pagan god

open my house boldly

invite sun and waves to crush my wings

rape this serenity

 

bluest black

rinsed indigo

uncensored red

 

i surrender

to the messages in the sky

on the waves

 

 

i eat my own blood

reach quietly inside the water

gather all of me

alongside myself

 

and the ocean whispers

 

stay close

stay close

 

an earlier version

of sunrise

teases the curtains

teases the whiteness of sheets

that gather around my ankles

that remind my feet to breathe

 

an earlier version

of sunrise

sits cross-legged

holds thunder

captive under skirts

 

that deny

full moons

that deny

seasons  of fire

thy deny

births and names 

 

st croix mornings

gaze back at me

through the eyes

of my daughter

remind me

of other madnesses

other unnamed seeds

 

the madness of the sky

the madness of a woman

who refuses to

 

stay close

stay close

who will be the messenger of this land

who will be the messenger of this land
count its veins
speak through the veins
translate the language of water
navigate the heels of lineage
who will carry this land in parcels
paper, linen, burlap
who will weep when it bleeds
and hardens
forgets to birth itself

who will be the messenger of this land
wrapping its stories carefully
in patois of creole, irish,
gullah, twe, tuscarora
stripping its trees for tea
and pleasure
who will help this land to
remember its birthdays, baptisms
weddings, funerals, its rituals
denials, disappointments
and sacrifices

who will be the messengers
of this land
harvesting its truths
bearing unleavened bread
burying mutilated crops beneath
its breasts

who will remember
to unbury the unborn seeds
that arrived
in captivity
shackled, folded,
bent, layered in its
bowels

we are their messengers
with singing hoes
and dancing plows
with fingers that snap
beans, arms that
raise corn, feet that
cover the dew falling from
okra, beans, tomatoes

we are these messengers
whose ears alone choose
which spices
whose eyes alone name
basil, nutmeg, fennel, ginger,
cardamom, sassafras
whose tongues alone carry
hemlock, blood root, valerian,
damiana, st. john’s wort
these roots that contain
its pleasures its languages its secrets

we are the messengers
new messengers
arriving as mutations of ourselves
we are these messengers
blue breath
red hands
singing a tree into dance